June 8, 2011
OTTAWA—Canadians are not only becoming more conservative, they’re also shifting the definition of what it means to be “conservative,” says Preston Manning, head of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy .
“What used to be considered conservative values . . . are increasingly becoming more mainstream values,” Manning told reporters Wednesday.
Manning was commenting on a national survey by Allan Gregg of Harris-Decima, and Carleton University professor André Turcotte, conducted for his centre after the federal election, which gauged how Canadians “self-identify” and whether their economic, social and moral opinions align with Conservative values.
For the second year in a row, it declared Canadian public opinion is becoming more conservative, with a “uniquely Canadian strain” of conservative orthodoxy emerging.
The Canadian brand of conservatism has a “softer touch” than the American version, embraces “free market principles,” balanced budgets, moderation, incrementalism and believes in a role for government in social justice, the pollsters said.
On crime, the poll showed most believe that efforts to rehabilitate criminals usually don’t work, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reintegrate them and it doesn’t mean we should be nasty or mean about it,” said Gregg.
The study signalled another big shift in the past year among Canadians who self-identified with so-called conservative values.
It showed a sharp decline, down 30 percentage points, in the number of people who believe that “patriotism and a strong military are necessary to advance Canada’s national interests.”
Turcotte and Allan Gregg said it definitely reflects a public fatigue with the war in Afghanistan. “Even Stephen Harper is tired of it,” said Gregg.
Overall, Canadian conservatism is a cultural shift that has been 12 to 15 years in the making, and they added, is not an outright “rejection of government.”
“There’s no Sarah Palin waiting in the wings in Canada. There is no Tea Party rejection of government the same way we see down in the U.S.,” said Turcotte. “It’s really a re-focused government” that people want to see.
The pollsters said although 60 per cent of Canadians voted for parties other than the Conservatives, the election results do not contradict their analysis.
Gregg said ideological differences between parties are breaking down, with Liberals and NDP voters embracing what usually are seen as conservative orthodoxies such as balanced budgets, and support for entrepreneurship. Most now believe the private sector should do more, for example on the environment.
On the eve of the federal Conservative Party’s convention, Manning said lawmakers should take note. Canadians are not looking to governments for grand visions or designs for society, but want the government, acting as a partner with others, to facilitate community and individual projects, he said Wednesday.
The only exception is public safety and security, where Canadians still expect government to play a strong role, the survey showed.
The survey’s conclusions were based on interviews with 1,000 Canadians which had a margin of error of plus/minus 3.1 percentage points. It compared results with last year’s poll, and added a couple of new questions.