Tasha Kheiriddin and Adam Daifallah are trying to shake up the Conservative Party. In their new book “Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution,” they propose a brand of “Opportunity Conservatism” that borrows ideas—from the right and left—that they believe will result in positive economic, social and political change. The Quebec and Ontario natives advocate increased tolerance for diversity (particularly within the conservative concept of “family”), sustainable development, greater environmental protections and tax breaks for families.
Unsatisfied with the status quo, Kheiriddin and Daifallah propose a two-tiered health care system as a solution to problems around wait times and the “brain drain,” a rebalancing of the Canadian media’s “leftist” slant, and ending corporate welfare. Their ideas are designed to get Conservative and Liberal thinkers to reconsider their country and their politics.
In early December, Maisonneuve editorial assistant Rachel Harvey met Kheiriddin and Daifallah at their book launch at Sauvé House in Montreal, and later interviewed them regarding Tory leader Stephen Harper's campaign.
Rachel Harvey: You’ve endorsed a more socially progressive brand of fiscal conservatism in your book and denounced conservative fidelity to the anti-gay marriage stance. What do you think of Harper’s claim that he would subject existing same-sex legislation to a free vote in the Commons if a Tory government were elected?
Adam Daifallah: First, we don’t think of our position as “progressive.” That word implies we are progressing to something and no one knows what it is. I would call our view a realistic and pro-family conservative stance which takes into account the reality of the situation—that the Supreme Court of Canada has pronounced on gay marriage, and that it is now the law of the land. We are pro-family, no matter what family it is.
As for what Harper did, we would prefer that he not emphasize the marriage issue. But if his strategy was to get it out of the way and not mention it again, it might have been a smart strategic calculation. If he had not mentioned it, the media was bound to bring it up later in the campaign.
RH: Harper’s first campaign “blunders”—failing to communicate to Peter MacKay his proposal to appoint an independent prosecutor to decide on criminal prosecutions arising from the sponsorship scandal and proposing to re-open the gay-marriage debate—centered upon retroactive rather than proactive campaign issues. Do you think Harper’s unwillingness to retire these issues indicates anything about the direction of conservative thinking?
AD: I think Harper must bring up the Liberal record. That said, any attacks on the Liberals must be coupled with alternative proposals that are part of a vision. Harper seems to be doing that so far, which is good. Conservatives do well when they talk about ideas and vision in a positive, optimistic way.
Tasha Kheiriddin: We’ve said it over and over, and we’ll keep saying it because we want the Tories to hear it! The Conservatives cannot just oppose, they must propose. On sponsorship, Harper did address this in a positive way when he said he would create a new public prosecutor. It just didn’t get more than a day of media play.
RH: Harper has endorsed a child-care payment plan to help couples raise their children. What is the difference between state-provided child-care support payments and other versions of child-care that you deem to be statist?
TK: We are not libertarian—we believe government has a role in shaping society. ... Strong families are key to a strong society. But strong families aren’t built by state daycare. “One size fits all” childcare is not in children’s best interests and is not what parents want. Parents should have the opportunity to raise their kids as they see fit ... to not just have one option—daycare—which claims it will produce equal results, with all children getting “quality care.” Quality care is different for every child. If we’re going to use our tax dollars for something, I say let’s empower people to make the best choices for their kids. In some cases that means daycare, in some cases it doesn’t. Harper’s proposal is a good start, and smarter spending than Martin’s.
RH: Although Harper has been leading the pack with policy announcements, some of his proposals can be viewed as socially unpalatable (gay marriage) or fiscally non-conservative (child care). Do you feel Harper’s announcements are based on a united, organized and small-c “conservative” ideology?
AD: The child-care plan, announced today, is consistent with small-c conservatism because it is based on the ideal of choice. ... It is a little early yet to talk about whether the Tory platform is united and organized around small-c conservatism. What I can say is that I believe Harper is a true small-c conservative, which can easily be gleaned by examining his long record in politics, his time as a Reform Party MP from 1993-1996, and his work with the National Citizens Coalition. So we know he has it in him—it is just a question of whether he lets it show.
RH: Regarding Harper’s GST announcement: How effective a tax cutting strategy do you feel this is, given that it requires consumption to provide reward?
TK: Dumb economics, smart politics. Harper knows what he’s doing here. Canadians hate the GST—it was never properly communicated why this tax was better than the 13.5 percent Manufacturer’s Sales Tax that it replaced. Sure, an income tax cut would be better for the economy—but what is Harper going to say, “I’ll cut your income taxes more than Paul Martin?” Not very original. He needs to set himself apart and that’s what he’s doing.
RH: In the election campaign thus far, Harper has been beating other parties to the punch by rolling out his platform first and forcing the opposing parties to react to his announcements. These moves have been winning him accolades for leadership and strategy. Do you feel he is providing a positive and progressive message?
TK: Good policies, but the Tories still lack the “vision thing” we talk about in chapter twelve of the book. We know the Liberals’ vision—Canadians are a big-government, state-health-care-loving, kinder-and-gentler-than-the-Americans kind of people. Not particularly exciting or uplifting (or true, for that matter). Harper has to tie all his policies into an alternative vision that inspires, the way we try to do with “Opportunity Conservatism” in the book.
RH: Harper’s move to target drugs and drug-related crimes: What do you think of the undoubtedly costly approach he’s endorsing and its failure to address issues that would likely arise from closing down safe “shooting spaces”—like the need for well-developed recovery programs?
TK: Well if you think the Conservative drug proposal is costly, try the Liberal Gun Registry. A $2 billion waste of money and we’re no safer for it. If that money had been applied to crime prevention strategies and used to put more police on the streets I’ll bet you wouldn’t have seen half the shootings in Toronto this year. As for safe injection sites etc, we should not be providing people with drugs. It’s the same thing as saying “let homeless people sleep in Nathan Phillips Square”—what kind of compassion is it when you encourage people to engage in self-destructive behaviour instead of helping them stop it?
RH: IN your book, you explicitly endorse private health-care alongside the public system, similar to the systems used by Sweden, Switzerland and France, and claim that this view accords well with small-c conservatism. What do you think of Harper’s refusal to commit to private health care? Is it ideologically guided and, if so, is it guided by a conservative ideology you recognize?
AD: [His refusal] is guided mainly by fear. Fear that the media and Liberals will demonize him as wanting a US-style system—which we, and nobody else, really wants. The ideologically-guided approach is advocating the status quo, which explicitly rejects any private healthcare. Our approach is pragmatic and realistic, and would ensure that everyone gets faster service.
RH: Harper has given some indication in his responses to questions around private health-care that he does not unwaveringly support the public system he claims to endorse. Do you think these sorts of vague responses could revive ‘hidden agenda’ accusations or breed new negative assessments of conservative honesty?
AD: Yes, they revive the accusations, which is why we favour a much more straightforward approach.
RH: Much attention has been paid to Harper’s new-found penchant for turtlenecks. Do you feel he can successfully redefine himself as a “casual” or “laidback” politician?
AD: He definitely needed a fashion tune-up and so far he is looking good!
TK: At least it’s not a summer campaign, so the golf shirts are safely in the closet. His hair is looking good too! His best accessory? His lovely family, who warm up his presence wherever he goes.