The launch of a project like Conservative Futures is an exciting time. It’s a time to be inspired – to do new things, to dream new dreams.
We have a blank canvas in front of us. We can do almost anything with this space, and with this organization
I say that one big thing we have to do is inspire people. Because we’re never going to get anything done until and unless we can bring a large number of our people to bear, to do some very boring tasks within our movement, within our party, and ultimately with our country.
Two great conservative leaders were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. We know them for their great policy victories and for their ideas. What is less known about them is this: they didn’t just win traditional conservative voters. They also carried the youth vote – and by wider margins than the whole voting population. The youth vote is an idealistic vote – you won’t win them with a vision of a 2% cut in a tax rate, or a non-refundable tax credit for 10% of a Metropass. They want something more meaningful than that. (For good and for ill.)
What did Ron and Maggie do? How did they appeal to the most idealistic part of the population? They had a broader vision of what could be, and what SHOULD be. To riff on a quote from a liberal, Robert F. Kennedy – they dreamed of things that could be, and asked why not? And when they asked these questions, they got their countries asking questions, and then they got people behind the Iron Curtain asking those same questions. Why shouldn’t these things be?
Why shouldn’t a person be able to get a telephone line without a big bureaucratic fight? (Privatizing British Telecom.) Why shouldn’t the tax code be simpler? (Tax Reform Act of 1986, with a near-flat US federal income tax.) Why shouldn’t people be allowed to take their money with them from country to country? (Dismantling of foreign capital/exchange controls.) Why shouldn’t the Eastern Bloc take down the wall dividing Berlin, and the hard frontiers between Communist and free Europe? (Berlin Wall speech.) These seemed child-like questions, and the sophisticated sneered at those asking them. But the answers begged were powerful ones, and won the day.
We Canadians are the beneficiaries of giants like these, and their Canadian counterparts – Brian Mulroney did great things here, too. So the tasks before us are more prosaic. That said, they’re no less real.
Maxime Bernier electrified the Conservative leadership race and set the terms of debate. Even in losing (agonizingly narrowly), the spirits of the party’s most passionate activists were lifted by simple questions that Max raised.
Why shouldn’t Canadians be allowed to buy milk and cheese at the prices others pay? Why shouldn’t air travel be easier? Why shouldn’t Canadians be able to buy and sell freely across our federation, as guaranteed by our original constitution? Why is there a maple syrup cartel and “strategic reserve” – why shouldn’t we be able to get cheap and plentiful maple syrup?
We need to keep asking these simple questions. We need to keep asking and answering them, if we hope to inspire our movement, our party, and, ultimately, our country to go in the direction we want.
Maxime showed us the way – he showed us what we could do, what we could be. And so my question to my fellow Canadians out there who love freedom, and who want to be inspired, is: why not?