Zahura Ahmed, Congress student blogger
From 2006 to 2015, Canadian federal politics were marked by the distinctive leadership style and priorities of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. From domestic and foreign policy, to institutions and structures, little in Canadian politics was left untouched. This morning, three prominent Conservative Canadians, Preston Manning, Ian Brodie, and Tom Flanagan, provided their reflections on the ‘Harper Decade’ at Congress 2016.
The three panelists spoke about Harper’s legacy, including their views on what were his major accomplishments as well as missteps. They highlighted his role in consolidating a strong new Conservative Party that was able to hold power and the support of many Canadians for so long. Panelists commented that under Stephen Harper the geopolitical centre of gravity of the party and Canadian politics shifted to the right, demonstrating that this is possible, which represents his most important legacy. Further, panelists felt that Harper had allowed the West a stronger position to speak on its grievances and interests, while noting he was able to engage Quebec at the same time.
On weaknesses, Brodie pointed to Harper’s failure to adequately address the state’s relationship with its Indigenous population, which is one of the most prominent policy challenges for Canada. No panellist was able to explain Harper’s antagonism for the long-form census, and all felt he paid a heavy price on this issue. While Brodie defended Harper as having climate change as a priority, Preston Manning felt that Conservatives have ceded ground unnecessarily on environmental issues, and called for a stronger recognition and focus on the values of conservation and good stewardship of resources. On the other hand, panellists felt that the rhetoric of “old-stock Canadians, used infamously by Harper, was misconstrued by the broader public. Flanagan and Brodie claimed that Harper used this language to encourage the Conservative Party to reach out to community members of all backgrounds that had a vested interest in Conservative ideology.
The panel ended with Manning emphasizing the importance of diversity within the Conservative Party. He used the analogy that many Canadians so often use, citing the strength of our mosaic. He stated that while many people of diverse backgrounds must come together, there must also be a common glue to hold them in place, suggesting that this is an important priority of the Conservative party of Canada.