Where Canada?s "New Right" is Going Wrong
Date: Friday, June 25 2004
The following is the edited version of an article entitled "Where Canada?s "New Right" is Going Wrong" which appeared on Vive Friday, June 25. Comments attached to the article refer to the original article. The edited version was posted July 29 at the author's request.--Editor
Where Canada's New Right May Be Going Wrong
By Adrienne Snow
A number of the new Conservative Partyıs current officials and elected
representatives such as strategists, Ken Boessenkool and Tom Flanagan,
party leader, Stephen Harper, and, MP, Jason Kenney - are, or so their
biographies seem to suggest, intellectuals. That is, they have often earned
their livings by reading, researching, writing, or speaking in universities,
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government.
They are, arguably, somewhat similar in that respect to some left-wing
activists, academics, and leaders, whose theory-derived approach to
effecting social or economic change many conservatives have traditionally
deplored. That a number of todayıs influential Canadian conservatives seem
to have little experience at jobs outside government, universities, and
NGOs, and at doing such jobs, not just for several years, but for 10 years,
20 years, or longer, as most Canadians do, is, to me, somewhat surprising,
given conservatismıs traditional associations with business and the
That the Conservative Party seems now to contain a number of individuals hailing, largely, from academe, government, and the third sector is not
necessarily, of itself, a cause for skepticism about the quality of public leadership the partyıs planners and MPs may provide. As history
demonstrates, intellectuals have often played important and beneficial roles in government, and in public debates about the manner by which governments may best protect and advance citizensı interests.
However, the, arguably, surprising number of intellectuals now playing key roles in Canadaıs federal Conservative Party may inadvertently be causing some problems - or so the "disappointing", to paraphrase Mr. Harper, results of last monthıs federal election appear to me to suggest - new to Canadian conservatives, if not to their counterparts on the Left, where adopting
policy ideas straight from academic journals, or from research organizations' seminars, has appeared for decades to be a favoured -
although neither, it would appear, politically sound, nor, it can be argued, democratically responsive - strategy.
**What About Public Opinion on Public Policy?**
The apparent gap between the life experiences of some of Canadaıs present conservative "elites" and those of most Canadians may, in the long run, not
much matter, from a public management perspective.
But, for now, a case can be made that some apparent disconnects between the ideas being put forward by some Canadian conservatives, based, at least, on the recent federal Conservative Party's platform, and the priorities of Canadian voters, may mean the practical, common sense of the Canadian public is at some risk of being ignored, apparently in favour of some of the kinds
of policy ideas that circulate in some conservative academic circles and NGOs.
Although making policy "by the polls" may not always lead to the best possible policies, when Canadians indicate through polls, such as those
recently conducted by Ipsos-Reid and other polling firms, that better health care and lower unemployment are more important to them than lower taxes, that is, it can be argued, a reflection of the publicıs continuing good sense, particularly at a time when Canadaıs aging population will consume more health care over the next twenty years than ever before. And, at a time when high unemployment has afflicted much of Canada for years.
Yet, the Conservative Party, presumably acting under the influence of its present MPs and strategists, still saw fit to campaign last month on a platform of relatively large tax reductions. In promising a 25 percent reduction in tax rates for middle class Canadians, the Conservatives appear, at least to this observer, to have proposed policies somewhat out of sync
with the sound opinions of "ordinary" Canadians.
In short, while some of the Conservativesı recent policy proposals may conform with certain fashionable economic intellectual orthodoxies, they are, unfortunately, both inconsistent with Canadian public opinion, and with a growing body of international evidence.
**Tax Cuts: The Triumph of Free Market Economic Theory over Current Research?**
Although some Canadian conservatives continue to promote relatively large tax cuts, respected academics, such as Princeton economist, Paul Krugman, argue tax cuts may sometimes appear to create jobs temporarily, but are unlikely to create employment in the long run, except under a special set of economic circumstances called a "liquidity trap". Even some noted free
market economists, such as Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, often invoked by many conservatives in other contexts, are unconvinced tax cuts inevitably stimulate the economy.
It is also interesting - particularly in light of recent proposals made by the Conservatives and by the New Democratic Party to reduce the Goods and
Services Tax (GST) on some purchases - the United States was recently advised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
to increase American prosperity, not by cutting taxes, in what increasingly appears perhaps to be the ill-informed hope doing so will magically "grow" the economy, but by adding a new tax, similar to the GST.
In short, large tax cuts increasingly seem not to be the economic panaceas some conservative intellectual theorizing about economic growth, conducted by various Canadian think tanks and NGOs, has, at least sometimes, suggested
they may be.
Recent research suggests government policies such as pro-competitive regulations for businesses, more efficient regulations for financial markets, and investment in research and development, are likely to be more direct paths to economic growth than significant reductions in either income
or consumption taxes.
Therefore, it appears to this observer that, if ideology continues to prevail within conservative circles, at the expense of respect for research
and for public opinion, as seemed to me to be the case during this year's federal election, conservatism in Canada may risk becoming a haven for an economically and socially risky, not to mention politically chancy, brand of
- for lack of a better term - "intellectual correctness".
That is a matter toward which Messrs. Flanagan, Harper, and some of the rest of Canadaıs current federal Conservative leadership cadre may, in the
post-election calm, wish to direct their intellectual efforts.
Adrienne Snow is the Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Civic Renewal. Her writing on public policy has been published in the *Globe and Mail*, the *National Post*, the *Ottawa Citizen*, the *Calgary Herald*, and elsewhere, and her research has been presented to federal and provincial government committees.
The Centre for the Study of Civic Renewal (CSCR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting research and public education on what
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