Conservatives from across the country gathered in Ottawa last weekend to attend the 10th annual Manning Networking Conference. This is the brainchild of former Reform Leader Preston Manning and is billed as a discussion around the Conservative Movement in Canada.
Now it would be easy to think that the Conservative Party wields no real power in a Liberal majority government and in the short term, you might not even be wrong. But ultimately the Conservatives will take power back, maybe not in 2019 or even 2023, but history shows us that Canadians will eventually tire of one government in favour of a new one.
The Conservative movement is at a critical juncture and there is a growing realization that it needs to grow and adapt to remain competitive against the Liberals, who Conservatives had hoped had been effectively neutralized in 2011 but were oh so wrong, as it turns out.
Here are four themes from last week’s Manning Conference that could impact your organization’s goals:
1- All Ontario PC talk, all the time: You couldn’t have a single discussion with anyone without being asked who you supported in the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leadership race. In fact, all three candidates (Elliot, Mulroney and Ford) were given stage time where they were interviewed by Anthony Furey. Provincial battles are often seen as a litmus test for federal ones and if you haven’t already, cultivating relationships with the Ontario PC’s, both elected, nominated and staff, would just be prudent. Hedge your bets and although the PCs in Ontario have an incredible knack for self-destruction, it’s too early to count them out.
2- New Ideas: The theme this year at Manning was around new ideas for a new generation and there is a feeling that the movement/party must grow and attract a new demographic. In fact, pollster David Coletto presented data that showed that millennials could vote Conservative, but only if the party could address issues they cared about like immigration and the environment. If your organization has a new idea that requires time to mature and the support of a political party, you are pushing on an open door right now and the time is now to begin seeding ideas.
3- Carbon Tax: There is violent opposition to a carbon tax in conservative circles, but Preston himself made an impassioned plea that it’s not enough for Conservatives to be opposed to a carbon tax, we must figure out and sell an alternative conservative vision for the environment. This is an opportunity for organizations and associations in this space; how can you help the Conservatives create this new vison?
4- Trans Mountain Pipeline: There was much discussion around the frustration with BC and the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Jason Kenney, now Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader, gave a barn burning speech on the importance of Canada’s natural resources and making it a moral issue about how Alberta can support the rest of the Canada through equalization but only if projects are approved. In this instance any organizations with interests in natural resource projects would be well served by working to ensure that they have conservative allies, because as we know, timelines for these projects can eclipse government life cycles.
These are all important discussions taking place now in the Conservative movement that will contribute to the Conservative Party’s 2018 Policy Convention in Halifax set for August.
It goes without saying that you need a strong relationship with the current Liberal government, but while the Conservative party may be bruised and battered, it is rebuilding, and organizations would be well served to not forgot about Conservatives in the pursuit of their public affairs goals.