All around the English-speaking world, conservatives are winning elections. They’ve won in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But conservatives couldn’t win in Canada this year, even after their main adversary, the Liberal Party, was exposed as a band of hypocrites for supporting blackface-enthusiast Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Now, with Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer’s resignation, conservatives are searching for a new identity. They should wake up to the reality that politics is not just about policy, but also about culture.
The aftermath of October’s Canadian election has inspired conservative self-reflection similar to the Republicans’ 2012 loss to President Obama. However, unlike Republicans who wondered how to reach out to more ethnic and religious communities who share conservative values, Canada’s talking heads and self-appointed experts are saying conservatives should point the finger at their own base of social conservatives.
The media narrative around Scheer’s failure to win, and his recent departure, has coalesced around the idea that the Conservative Party can’t win elections because the party isn’t supportive enough of the LGBT community or abortion. And at least one conservative senator shares this view, too.
You might think Scheer and his team campaigned on eliminating gay rights or reducing access to abortion. But that’s far from the truth. Scheer openly stated he wouldn’t revisit current policy on both issues. He even vowed to continue funding abortions in other countries, which is a dramatic change from previous conservative leaders. In fact, some of Canada’s best known pro-life voices called for Scheer to resign because he wasn’t pro-life enough.
How does a party that was decidedly less socially conservative than some members of its base wanted now get told to blame its base for being too socially conservative?
Because Canada’s conservatives have been running from any opportunity to discuss culture. They decided to focus on the most uncontroversial policy issues possible, like tax credits, and left aside the cultural issues that stir up passion in voters. While the Liberal Party talked about diversity, inclusion, feminism, and other cultural topics, conservatives offered technocratic plans for energy sector growth. By staying out of the culture wars that dominate politics in other countries where conservatives are winning, Canada’s conservatives lacked clarity of their values, and allowed liberals to tell voters who conservatives are and what they stand for.
It’s not like there weren’t compelling cultural battles taking place at the same time as the election, either. A well-known feminist was being targeted for “cancellation” by activists in Toronto for disagreeing with transgender ideology, which sparked a debate over free speech took over Toronto’s municipal government. Also, Canada’s Francophone province, Quebec, implemented anti-religious freedom policies banning public employees, such as teachers and cops, from wearing religious symbols such as crosses or hijabs. And conservatives were overwhelmingly quiet or indifferent on both issues, failing to engage in the culture wars happening around them.
With President Trump’s assent, Republicans learned just how much culture wars matter to voters. The next wave of Republican leaders, such as Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, are applying that lesson in their efforts to rethink how conservatives can shape culture with public policy.
Canadian conservatives should take note as they prepare to vote on a new leader of the party in April 2020. Social conservatism isn’t the problem; failing to tackle cultural issues with confidence and clarity is what separates them from their victorious brethren in other nations.
Jamil Jivani (@JamilJivani) is a visiting scholar at the University of Cincinnati and author of “Why Young Men: The Dangerous Allure of Violent Movements and What We Can Do About It.”
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.