Conservatives need an honest post-mortem

Posted on November 11, 2015 in Equality Debates – Opinion/Commentary – Jason Kenney offers a shallow, self-interested defence of the Conservative party’s policies.
Nov 11 2015.   By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist

He repeats the mantra as if force of will could make it true.  Since the Conservative were ousted on Oct. 19, former cabinet minister Jason Kenney has told anyone who will listen: “We got the big things right. We got the tone wrong.”  He does not explicitly blame Stephen Harper — at least not publicly — but the implication is clear. Harper set the tone of the campaign. He alienated voters with his grim demeanour and bleak tone. He accepted responsibility for the loss of 60 Tory seats.

But the 47-year-old leadership aspirant is deluding himself if he thinks his party’s problems are only skin deep. The reason the Conservatives lost power is that Canadians no longer wanted a government obsessed with security, fiscal austerity and big oil. Harper’s relentless negativity only reinforced that.  If Kenney intends to seek his party’s top job by putting a friendlier face on Harper’s policies, he will have to explain:

1. What the Tories got right about the economy:
They spent the $13.8-billion surplus they inherited within two years, leaving Ottawa with no economic cushion when the 2008 recession hit. Over the next six years, they ran deficits every year. Finally in 2015 they managed a $1.9-billion surplus — their first.  On their watch, the national debt grew by $176.4 billion. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of Canada’s accumulated debt was amassed since 2008.

2. What they got right about job creation:
Year after year, they brought down budgets that promised to increase employment and prosperity. When they took power in 2006, the unemployment rate stood at 6.4 per cent. When they lost power, it was 7 per cent.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The quality of jobs declined precipitously on their tenure; more Canadians worked part-time, on contract, for temporary agencies or for themselves. They no longer earned enough to keep themselves or their families out of poverty.

3. What they got right about immigration:
They brought in hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to fill low-skill jobs, depriving Canadian job seekers of entry-level positions. They turned away refugee claimants who had set foot in any “safe country” on their way to Canada They locked up migrants awaiting deportation in mass detention centres and maximum security jails. They launched crackdown after crackdown, claiming migrants were exploiting Canada’s generosity. They denied refugee claimants life-saving medications and emergency care.  Over the course of nine years, they transformed Canada from a welcoming country to an inhospitable, harshly judgmental nation.

4. What they got right about regional development:
They gambled that they could turn Canada into an energy superpower. They assumed the market for oil was insatiable. They took it for granted that pipelines would be built. And they refused to let concerns about climate change get in their way.  They paid scant heed to the hollowing-out of central Canada’s manufacturing base. They accused Maritimers of a culture of defeat. They sneered at the prospects for renewable energy. And had no “plan B” when oil prices plummeted and opposition to pipelines swelled, leaving Alberta’s bitumen landlocked.

5. What they got right about “ensuring political accountability in Ottawa”:
They shut off access to government documents, silenced public officials, denigrated or drove out parliamentary watchdogs, rolled dozens of legislative changes into book-length omnibus bills and refused to let opposition MPs examine their expenditures.

6. What they got right in their relationship with First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

7. What they got right in “advancing Canadian values on the world stage.”
Kenney was front and centre on many of these issues. He was the minister who banned niqabs at citizenship ceremonies; who opened the floodgates to a massive influx of foreign temporary workers; who insisted Canada had a great “skills gap” (based on a misreading of Kijiji’s jobs vacancy data); who boasted about defunding charities that criticized Israel; and who blasted a United Nations official for revealing that nearly 900,000 Canadians used food banks every month.

It is true that Harper ran an ill-tempered, divisive election campaign. But that just sharpened voters’ desire for change.

Canadians wanted a government that was on their side. In substance and style, the Conservatives failed that test.

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