Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Conservative Coalition Building

Want to know how the current Conservative government in Canada will fair? Start by looking south.

The following passage is from a New Yorker article published some time ago (2005) on Grover Noquist, the American conservative strategist. It’s jarring enough to be worth quoting at length.

On the way back to Washington, he talked about how to build a broad coalition. "If you want the votes of people who are good on guns, good on taxes, and good on faith issues, that is a very small intersection of voters," he said. "But if you say, Give me the votes of anybody who agrees with you on any of these issues, that's a much bigger section of the population." To illustrate what he meant, Norquist drew three intersecting circles on a piece of paper. In the first one he wrote "guns," in the second he wrote "taxes," in the third he wrote "faith." There was a small area where the three circles intersected. "With that group, you can take over the country, if you start with the airports and the radio stations," he said. "But with all of the three circles that's sixty per cent of the population, and you can win politically. And if you add more things, like property rights and home-schooling, you can do even better."

Threats of armed insurrection aside, Norquist knows what he’s talking about. Coalition building has been the name of the game in the American conservative movement for decades now, and he’s about as important a coalition builder as you will find. A loose affiliation of gun owners, big business types, the very religious, and a smattering of libertarians have managed to govern the US for most of the last few decades mostly by burying their differences.

The reason this is especially important now is that the same strategy is being employed in Canada. A few years ago, a coalition of soft Quebec nationalists, Alberta conservatives, rich residents of the 905 belt and a few cantankerous Maritimers would have seemed bizarre. Now it governs the country.

The good news is that coalitions break down. This usually happens when they’re under stress. They stick together best when things are good—when they’re bad, as in the US right now, they tend to splinter. The term ‘coalition of the willing’ turns out to be have been an ironic choice in Iraq, as the Republican Party is itself one—at least insofar as it’s composed of people that shouldn’t necessarily agree with one another.

Economically marginal Christian conservatives in the Midwest shouldn’t support tax breaks for the wealthy. The wealthy shouldn’t want religious morals interfering in business. One can set this aside to win, but not to lose.

This is true of Canada as well. Quebeckers and Albertans have a rich history of not caring for one another much. Maritimes have an equally rich history of complaint about virtually the rest of the country. How long they can at hold together probably depends on how long they can keep Toronto Liberals from controlling parliament. Once they start to lose, they may well fall very much to pieces.

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