Delay in selection of a New Party Leader provides an Opportunity for the Tories to Regroup
Last week’s decision to suspend the Conservative Party’s Leadership race was inevitable. Moving ahead with the June date became increasingly unsustainable in the face of sweeping “Shelter in Place” edicts across Canada and elsewhere.
But the delay in the selection of a new party leader comes with a silver lining. It represents an opportunity for the Conservative party and its leadership candidates to regroup and recommit themselves to policy and ideas.
Thus far the race has been generally marked by neither. The leadership candidates have been mostly focused on their opposition to Justin Trudeau and his government and less on the policies and ideas that animate them and would in turn guide their prospective governments.
The delay in the selection of a new party leader comes with a silver lining
This is most plainly seen in the uninspiring level of intra-party debate. The main disagreement so far has been about when the leadership vote should take place. That’s not a good sign.
It will need to change. The present crisis has exposed several big issues that are likely to dominate Western politics in the coming years. Oppositionalism won’t be an adequate response in a post-coronavirus world.
Canadian Conservatives should use the delay in their leadership race to start to think about how they’ll respond to these new and emerging issues.
First and foremost is China. There was plenty of evidence that Canada needed to rethink its relationship with China prior to COVID-19. Its record of corporate espionage and intellectual property theft, cyber attacks on our public institutions, and the unlawful imprisonment of Canadian citizens was bad enough.
But China’s deliberate efforts to suppress details about COVID-19 to the rest of the world has now led to a global pandemic and massive economic disruption. These actions cannot go without a response. Canada needs a new China strategy.
Everything should be on the table including an active set of measures to repatriate parts of Canadian supply chains now based in China. Signs are the United States is likely to pursue this approach. Canada should follow suit. It will necessarily involve a combination of financial incentives to encourage Canadian firms to pull production out of China, procurement restrictions on firms that source materials or production from China, and trade diversification activities to reduce export reliance on the Chinese market.
Full economic independence is improbable given China’s size and influence but reducing our interdependence is still a worthwhile objective given its illiberalism and duplicity.
Some business voices will no doubt have misgivings about such a radical shift in policy. It may well involve higher costs for Canadian businesses and consumers. But Conservatives should be prepared to argue that Canada’s national interests are bigger than its GDP.
Another area is the suitability of our social safety net for the modern economy. That the Trudeau government has had to create two new income support programs, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and a 75 percent wage subsidy on the fly in the middle of a crisis is a sign that our current income-support system is in need of reform.
The 80-year old Employment Insurance model is showing its age. It has come to cover a smaller and smaller share of the population and fails to support dislocated workers who experience an income drop when accepting lower-paying jobs. These policy gaps, which have long been documented by various scholars, have only become more evident in recent weeks.
Everything should be on the table including an active set of measures to repatriate parts of Canadian supply chains now based in China
There’s a strong case for modernising Canada’s social welfare architecture to better reflect the shift to a service-based economy. Both sides of the political argument increasingly accepted this prior to the crisis. The post-crisis debate will now be on what to do about it.
The left’s preferred option is higher levels of redistribution and more unconditional payments such as a universal basic income. Conservatives must counter these arguments rooted in a humanistic understanding of the financial and non-financial benefits of work.
Welfarism isn’t the answer but neither is standpatism. Conservatives should instead champion a modernisation of Canada’s income-support programs that places a priority on paid work.
The current federal experiment with wage subsidies will be important in this regard. It may ultimately be a model that isn’t just applicable in extraordinary circumstances but can be used in normal market conditions to help dislocated workers re-enter the workforce.
There are various other areas that will require new thinking in the aftermath of the current crisis. And conservative ideas and perspectives must be a key part of this policy renewal.
But this will demand more from the Conservative party’s leadership candidates than we’ve seen to date. They should use the delay in the race to think deeply about a post-coronavirus world. The party and the country would be better for it.