Canada’s libertarian moment

anthony furey

By , Postmedia Network


Over the past few years, American lovers of liberty thought they had a shot at taking their ideas mainstream.

The combined political campaigns of Ron Paul, his son Rand Paul, and Gary Johnson brought an unprecedented amount of attention to the libertarian ideas they espoused. Observers labeled it “the libertarian moment.”

That was then. Trump is now. And all anyone talks about is the current Republican nominee, much to the dismay of activists across the political spectrum.

But things are different in Canada. After a decade in which Canadian conservatism was defined by the firm convictions of Stephen Harper, there’s now a massive void that covers everything to the right of Justin Trudeau. This isn’t a crisis. It’s an opportunity to redefine the centre-right in Canada.

And with Quebec MP Maxime Bernier’s arrival on the national stage as a Conservative leadership candidate the country may be on the cusp of its own libertarian moment.

Generally speaking, libertarians hold socially left views – pro-gay rights, OK with pot – but are strong fiscal conservatives. They’re big on reducing regulation and the size of the state. They favour voluntarism over compulsion – meaning it’s about people coming together to innovate and improve their communities, not getting a big faceless government to take their money and micromanage their affairs.

Bernier told me earlier this year that he stands for “more freedom and less government intervention in our day-to-day lives.” He said corporations like Bombardier don’t need taxpayer dollars. “It’s not the job of the government to give money to business … Small businesses don’t have the connections or the time to get a handout from the government.”

If it’s sold the right way, a substantial number of Canadian voters might say they identify with this approach. But there’ll need to be some important strategic salesmanship first.

For starters, many in the liberty crowd will need to drop their love of the purity test, something most not-yet-mainstream movements get bogged down in. This is when someone is told to get lost because they’re not enough of a pure believer. This sophomoric behaviour is electoral poison. The goal in politics should be to broaden the tent, not narrow it.

Average folks who aren’t deeply involved in the political process but still vote aren’t “pure” anything and rightly so. They’re working their jobs, raising their families and enjoying their hobbies on the weekend. These are swing voters ripe to be sold a new and positive message.

Another question is whether Bernier and his team are going to reach out to bring on board the liberty-inclined who’ve made a point of staying away from the Conservatives in recent years.

Canada actually has a federal libertarian party. While it’s not a big apparatus – their candidates garnered fewer than 40,000 votes combined in last year’s election – they’re serious and somewhat organized. Will they join the fold?

In the United States, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson have tried to become the Republican presidential candidates in addition to having run as the official Libertarian party candidate. This may seem like opportunism, but it’s more pragmatism. If you want to sell your ideas to an entire country, seek the largest possible platform.

A more libertarian-inspired Tory party could bring back those pockets of people who’ve shied away from the party as well as attract voters who should be ripe for the picking but stuck it out with the Liberals (or NDP) because of their long-standing socially progressive views.

Shifting and expanding the blue tent ever so slightly will go a long way to forging national consensus and perhaps giving that libertarian moment its day.

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