Disclosure: Garnett Genuis is the Conservative MP representing Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta.
One of the most important and formative experiences for me on the road to getting into politics was competitive debate—in both high school and university. I would strongly recommend this activity as optimal preparation for anyone considering the same path.
Competitive debaters compete to defend a point of view. They very often will defend a point of view that is not their own.
Every competitive debater is taught early that an essential characteristic of good debate is something called “clash”. Clash is when arguments are made to directly counter the arguments made by the other side—to show that, even on their own terms, the other side’s arguments fail. The alternative to a good debate characterized by clash is a bad debate which resembles two ships passing in the night—essentially, debaters doing their own monologue without much reference to what others are saying.
Debate in the Canadian Parliament has come to be characterized by the near complete absence of meaningful clash. MPs deliver prepared speeches one after the other that cast arguments on their own terms and play to their own social media following. It is extremely rare that an MP would use his or her speech to deconstruct the arguments of a previous speaker.
Clash is essential in good political conversations, though, because a neutral listener has a hard time weighing out who is right and who is wrong if meaningful refutation and deconstruction of arguments does not take place. If we are to be what Edmund Burke thought Parliament should be—the “deliberative assembly of one nation”, then we must talk to one another and about one another’s arguments.
In the same speech, Burke told voters in 1774: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”
It is very important for all members of the newly constituted 43rd parliament to reflect on the importance of clash and on Burke’s advice. If we are going to work together, then we must first be able to talk together, and disagree substantively, while seeking to persuade each other to change our perspectives. People who cannot argue together well will generally struggle to work together well. We must also denominate our conversations in terms of the common good, not the narrow particular interests of one group over another.
There are a few reasons why this will be particularly difficult in the 43rd parliament. The third largest political party exists explicitly to advance the interests of one region of the country over the interests of the rest of the country. The Bloc cannot be expected to seek to advance the national interest of a nation that they seek to break apart. Though less explicitly, the governing party has and will likely continue to pursue a strategy of ignoring the development needs of western Canada. When parties run regional instead of national campaigns, they are talking past some parts of the country they think they can ignore, and only talking to parts of the country that they think they need.
It has always been interesting to me that Justin Trudeau briefly did competitive debating as a student as well. However, he stopped competing early on, noting: “I discovered I had a serious limitation for either a debater or a lawyer. I wasn’t able to argue for something I didn’t passionately believe in.” Unfortunately, an inability to dig into, understand and defend views that are not yours is not just a limitation for a debater or a lawyer—it is also a limitation for a parliamentarian and for a leader. In the privacy of one’s own mind or as an intellectual exercise, one should be able to defend things that one does not believe in order to understand and argue against those same things later. A nation as diverse as Canada particularly needs leaders who are capable of understanding and responding to different modes of thought than their own.
I hope that we will be able to raise the quality of clash in upcoming parliamentary debates, but I worry that there are a variety of cultural factors, as well as institutional ones, that are working against us. We live in an age of social media filtering, where people easily get only the information that confirms their pre-existing biases. But more broadly, our culture has for a long time lacked a common understanding of what constitutes the common good—and so we generally treat political opinions as if they were expressions of individual emotive preferences as opposed to substantive deductions about facts. There are no short-term solutions to these problems but treating opinions as opinions instead of as feelings would be a good start.
For Conservatives, we can take some pride in the fact that our support grew across the country, and that we tried to speak in terms of national ideals and projects. Inevitably those ideals and projects were more popular in some places than in others. In this new Parliament, Conservatives must maintain a truly national orientation. I will defend the interests of my own riding, but I will seek to do so in terms that are persuasive to people in other regions and in other parties. Pursuing an idea of separatism in the west, which will never come to fruition, is not a good way to be persuasive to people in other regions. It is especially dangerous in an environment where our primary complaint is the land-locking of our resources.
I am not particularly optimistic about the amount of meaningful clash that will be on display in the next Parliament, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised.
Canada 'slightly delinquent' on alliance military spend, cracks 'payment plan' joke: Trump-Trudeau at NATO talks London
Canada is “slightly delinquent” when it comes to defence spending, said United States President Donald Trump during a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of NATO talks in London Tuesday.
According to NATO figures, vis-a-vis individual members’ benchmark defence spending at two-percent of their Gross Domestic Product, Canada rang in below that level for 2019 at approximately 1.3 percent.
“But Canada, they’ll be ok. I have confidence. (They’re) Just slightly delinquent. Some are major delinquents, some are way below one percent and that’s unacceptable,” said Trump, who hinted at leveraging trade to get members to pony up.
This ‘two percent of GDP’ obligation of NATO alliance members, or what became an “aspirational goal”, was a watered down demand by U.S. President Barack Obama and Britain in 2014; then they wanted Canada to double its expenditure on defence.
Trump made the remarks when pressed to categorize Canada’s current military spending as it stacks up against others.
“We are talking to Germany tomorrow and they’re starting to come along. They have to. They have to. Otherwise if they don’t want to, I’ll have to do something with respect to trade. And with trade I have all the cards.”
Germany’s defence spending as percentage of its GDP is slightly higher than Canada, while Spain, Luxembourg and Belgium are below one percent.
“And that’s unacceptable and then if something happens, we’re supposed to protect them,” Trump continued. “It’s not really fair and it never has been fair.”
Trump rounded off the comments by quipping that “well, we’ll put Canada on a payment plan, I’m sure the prime minister would love that” in answer to a question about whether Canada “should have a plan to meet the two percent standard.”
“Where are you at? What is your number?” Trump asked regarding the NATO benchmark.
This caused Trudeau to repeat what he noted earlier in the press scrum: that Canada’s military spending would increase by 70 percent through the coming decade.
“Over these past years, including for the coming years including significant investments in our fighter jets, significant investments in our naval fleets,” Trudeau said.
“We are increasing significantly our defence spending from previous governments that cut it.”
While the Twitter universe lit up with conjecture, in the moment Trump was not interested in the minutiae of Canada’s incremental budgetary increases over the next 10 years and pressed Trudeau.
“Ok, where are you now?” Trump asked again.
Trudeau: “We’re at one-point-three-five.”
“One-point-three?” asked Trump.
“One-point-four, and continuing to move forward,” replied Trudeau who later reiterated Canada’s leading role in military operations in Latvia and Baghdad during the half-hour media confab.
“United States and all NATO allies know that Canada is a reliable partner. We’ll continue to defend NATO, and our interests.”
In addition to Trump’s expression of confidence in Canada, he added that “two percent is very low. It should be four percent.”
For the 2019-20 fiscal year, Department of National Defence budget allocation was $21.9 billion. In terms of “significant investments” Trudeau noted in Canadian air and sea power, two years ago Canada bypassed Boeing for interim CF-18s and instead paid $90 million for 25 Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18s. Retrofitting them is expected to run another three or four-hundred million dollars.
This was after Trudeau scrapped the former Conservative government’s sole-sourced contract to buy Lookheed Martin’s next-gen F35 fighter after defeating Stephen Harper in the 2015 election.
In July of this year, the federal government reopened the project and invited multiple companies, including Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin (F-35) and Saab to bid on a $22 billion contract to supply the Royal Canadian Airforce with 88 new fighter jets.
The Royal Canadian Navy is also in the throes of a major $4.3 billion rebuild, having already retrofitted several interim vessels and constructing four of six scheduled Arctic and offshore patrol ships.
A further 15 larger, surface combatant vessels based on “type 26 BAE warships” are also in the design phase, according Public Services Canada. The department estimates that construction could begin as early as 2020 with a $60 billion budget.
The election is over, Justin Trudeau won the most number of seats, and Canada now has a Prime Minister who cannot remember the number of times he wore blackface throughout his life.
As Liberals nationwide celebrate their ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, pundits have been left to wonder just what Trudeau’s victory in 2019 could mean for citizens, politics and the nation as a whole.
While the long-term implications are hard to predict, one consequence certainly is not.
In a matter of four short years, the Liberals under Trudeau have gone from the promised heroes of progressive values to the gritty practitioners of Realpolitik, with no other goal in mind than winning.
No longer are they concerned with broken promises, such as electoral reform, skyrocketing deficits or lacklustre help for injured veterans on a pension. Nor are they bothered by the federal government’s continued attempts to hold money designated for Indigenous child welfare, or heck, their willingness to campaign off the climate change issue, while putting forward plans that all but fail to meet Paris requirements when it comes to carbon cuts.
This doesn’t even include the gigantic mess that is the SNC-Lavalin affair, and Trudeau’s habit of violating ethics laws and throwing powerful women in his own government under the bus on a regular basis.
Heck, after this, it seems MPs and voters are still somehow all too happy to support a PM who considered blackface only racist after being elected as a member of parliament in 2008. Photos and videos have shown that Trudeau wore blackface more than three times before 2008, with the most recent known instance occurring in 2001.
With seven years of space between the time the Prime Minister was last known to wear blackface and the time he learned blackface was wrong, it is possible that the number of times it was worn stands to be far higher than three.
For the many Liberal MPs who are having difficulty keeping up with the scope of this, It’s wrong to wear blackface in 2019, just at it was wrong in the year 2001. Typically the cancel culture mob, which so intensely has concentrated into the progressive wings of politics, would have ensured a politician with such a history would have all but failed to ascend and then dominate the heights of politics.
There’s a catch though. To successfully cancel a person, normally their own fans must turn on them. And here’s where Canadian progressives are similar to Republicans in the US. Forced to campaign with a flawed idol and the protector of their views on the international stage, the willingness to cancel these individuals evaporates, principles be damned.
Instead, the boogyman of the other side has been used to ensure dedicated voters continue to push forward, regardless of moral deficiencies.
For Justin Trudeau, and perhaps the Liberal party, that level of voter control is a life-saving relationship worth its weight in gold. For the nation, it potentially sets us up the country to be defined by the actions and moral makeup of Trudeau and his government.
Said simply, there is no getting around the fact that Canada today has a leader who takes Indigenous children and veterans to court, breaks ethics laws, can’t keep simple promises, and can’t even keep count of the number of times he performed an act he himself now considers racist.
Liberal members and parliamentarians voted for that, and unless action is taken from within the party, the country alongside the Liberal movement as a whole, will come to be maligned and defined by it.
The Conservatives will have to decide whether they’re a pro-establishment or anti-establishment party
It’s pretty clear that the Conservative base is strongly anti-establishment.
Just look at the response to any story about SNC-Lavalin, or China’s abuse of Canadian Citizens, illegal immigration, and the weak state of our armed forces.
At every step of the way, the Conservative base is completely at odds with Canada’s political elites.
And that speaks well of the Conservative base since Canada’s political elites have been getting it wrong for decades.
Our nation was once strong and influential in the world, particularly in the aftermath of World War Two.
But since then, our military and economic influence has waned, and while the elites masked our growing weakness for a while by pretending we had diplomatic “soft power,” that myth is being shattered as it’s now impossible to hide how weak our nation truly is.
Nobody takes us seriously, nobody fears us, nobody respects us, and nobody has any real reason to listen to us.
On the big issues, the common-sense of the Conservative base—made up of hardworking Canadians who are the backbone of our country—has been 100% right.
The problem is that the Conservative Party itself—due in large part to how much power the Canadian corporate establishment holds over our political parties – has often been afraid to truly push against the establishment consensus.
Even on issues where the majority of Canadians are on their side, like immigration, pushing back on China, standing up for ourselves in the world, being more independently strong and capable, the Conservatives are tentative and ultra-careful.
For example, while the Conservatives advocated for a tougher approach on China in the last election campaign, they also pushed for more trade with China in certain economic areas and slammed the Liberals for the restrictions China imposed on our exports.
In that hypocrisy, you can see the two pressures facing the Conservatives. On the one hand, the Conservative base wants us to distance ourselves from China, reduce our reliance on them, and stand up against the communist state. But the corporate establishment wants more trade with China and is willing to sell out our values to do it, and the Conservatives were afraid of totally defying them.
SNC-Lavalin is another example. The Conservatives channelled the justified anger of their base when they slammed the deferred prosecution agreement the Trudeau Liberals tried giving to the politically-connected company, yet also refused to say whether they would rescind the deferred prosecution agreement tool if they took office.
This leaves the Conservatives in a position where the enthusiasm of their anti-establishment base is often dampened, while many Canadians who could potentially be open to the Conservatives see the party as too pro-establishment and too corporate.
The fact is that the corporate establishment is increasingly international in outlook, seeking opportunities outside of Canada, and supporting policies that often hurt working-class and middle-class Canadians.
Instead of trying to out-corporate the Liberals, the Conservatives need to realize that there is more potential growth from shifting towards a more populist, economic nationalist, anti-establishment message and platform.
Sooner or later, the Conservatives will have to decide whether they’re a pro-establishment or anti-establishment party.
Georganne Burke is a Senior VP with the Pathway Group, a government relations consulting firm. She is a long-time Conservative activist focused on volunteer recruitment and outreach. She spends most of her time in Ottawa.
Full disclosure: I supported Andrew Scheer for leader in 2017. I had been the campaign manager for Maxime Bernier until I walked away in September 2016. Andrew had always been my #2 choice, so he quickly moved up to #1.
I liked the way they approached the campaign. They understood it was about members and GOTV. Andrew had to spend time in church basements, at coffee parties, at small events all across Canada. He worked hard, sacrificing time with his young family and reaching out to all who would hear him.
That is how he won: One member at time and by attracting nearly 2,000 volunteers.
I also had observed him interacting with his team and was impressed by his respectful and collegial way of participating with us, and making decisions based on the input he got from everyone.
I saw his intellect and sense of humor, his kindness and real warmth towards all people.
And that leads me to wonder how Canadians could miss the things that I saw, and so easily accept the narrative pushed successfully by the Liberals and their friends in the mainstream media: “He is untrustworthy, he’s a hater, he will cut jobs, he’s a racist and a white supremacist, he’s ‘Doug Ford’ etc., etc.”
I came to the conclusion that like most first-time national candidates that are not Justin Trudeau, Andrew made mistakes. Mistakes that can be fixed, but mistakes that reflected a lack of experience. Justin Trudeau also made mistakes but he had special dispensation from the media and to some extent from the Canadian people. I keep trying to picture the outrage and bloviating that would have occurred in the media had Andrew Scheer worn blackface once, let alone multiple times (so many times he could not remember how many).
So why should we let him stay?
Perhaps people have forgotten 2004 when our then leader Stephen Harper ran for the first time in a national campaign. His infamous accusation against Paul Martin of supporting child pornography, candidate Randy White’s social conservative outbursts on same sex marriage and abortion, Cheryl Gallant’s comments on abortion. Harper did not do enough to distance his party from these comments and also may have reinforced them himself. Sound familiar?
A few days later, after the social issues blow-up, Harper said that his government would revise the legislation that mandated French on Air Canada flights causing more uproar that needed to be tamped down.
After that election, in which we reduced the Liberals to a minority, won more seats, and came in second, people were calling for Stephen Harper’s head (does this sound familiar?). I remember attending the Toronto post mortem the day before my son got married in 2004. It was a rant-a-palooza, the likes of which I had never seen. Imagine if the media attacks on Stephen Harper by our own members had happened like those we are seeing now against Andrew Scheer, if, God forbid, we had driven Stephen Harper out of the leadership. We would not have had ten years of Conservative governments, the first two of which were minorities.
Stephen Harper learned from his mistakes. I believe Andrew Scheer can as well.
What are the “tells” that we need to look for to assure ourselves that Andrew Scheer is making the changes that are needed?
First, can Andrew Scheer face his critics and listen to them?
Second, can he take constructive criticism and turn it into meaningful action?
Third, can he open up to a wider circle for advice in order to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?
This is what I have seen to this point. Andrew has begun a national tour in which he is meeting with candidates, campaign managers and volunteers to listen to them, respond to their concerns and to thank them for their hard work. No leader in our party or a previous iteration of the party in my memory has personally undertaken this. He has faced anger and vitriol in some meetings, but in every meeting has heard criticism and taken it to heart.
Second, I know that he received several reports from campaign workers and supporters, along with the report and review he personally requested from Hon. John Baird. The first actions he took to remove his chief of staff and comms. director were almost unanimously sought by the authors of those reports. Even though they were his friends and trusted confidants, Andrew recognized that he would lose the trust and confidence of many if he did not take action. There are other changes that must happen, but as I have said many times over the past few weeks, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And third, but not in importance, I believe that Andrew has opened up to a wider circle. He recognized that perhaps he was not served as well as he should have been and that confirmation bias could have been an issue in the decision-making process. It is a good practice by any leader to seek as wide a variety of thoughts on any issue, allowing him or her to weigh the pros and cons and make a fully informed decision. His approach to the review of the campaign and seeking input widely is a good sign. What remains is to ensure that he takes decisive action on the advice he is given.
What I am saying here is that while no one, least of all Andrew, is happy with the outcome, there is an upside. We increased our seats in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan. We managed to win the popular vote. We gained 22 seats nationally. We have a young, intelligent and decent leader, who deeply cares about our country.
We need to give him the same chance we once gave to a young Stephen Harper, who made mistakes in 2004 but found a new path to defeat the Liberals just two years later. It is my hope that our party stays united behind the Leader, and does not give our opponents what they want: a chaotic, infighting Conservative Party that will be vulnerable to a snap election loss.