Conservatives can defeat Liberals with a focus on environment and First Nations relations

Last month I wrote a column suggesting several areas the next leader of the Conservative party should consider in order to strongly differentiate their party from the ruling Liberals. I will now expand upon that.

Along with a strong focus on integrity, a coherent and rational fiscal/economic policy and a strict avoidance of social conservative “issues” the new leader of the Conservative party should consider the following.

First, the party needs to have a logical policy/platform on climate change and the environment. Contrary to public perception conservatives have a long and proud history of protecting the environment. As many Canadian conservatives look to American conservatives for ideas, consider that it was Republican president Theodore Roosevelt that created the United States National Forest Service, and numerous national parks and bird reserves. He argued strongly in favour of preserving natural resources. Being a “conservative” to him meant conserving the environment.

Moving onwards into the 1970s then-president Richard Nixon, a staunch conservative if there ever was one, created the Environmental Protection Agency, and signed into law the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. His administration worked closely with the government of prime minister Pierre Trudeau in beginning the cleanup of the terribly polluted Great Lakes. It was also the Nixon administration that mandated the use of catalytic converters on vehicles to help reduce air pollution (which includes greenhouse gases).

In the 1980s, Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney convinced president Ronald Reagan to take strong action against acid rain which was destroying Canadian lakes and rivers. To this day Mulroney has been called “Canada’s greenest prime minister.”

Next, the Conservatives must consider their relationship with the First Nations. In the last federal election did the Conservative party even mention the First Nations? The Liberals are very vulnerable here. In 2015, Prime Minister made the First Nations an important part of his platform and as such the First Nations voted for the Liberals in record numbers. Did he follow through? You be the judge, but the two most remembered images of the prime minister and the First Nations is his expelling of an Indigenous woman from his cabinet in the SNC-Lavalin scandal and Trudeau having Indigenous protesters removed from a Liberal party fundraiser when they “had the nerve” to demand he live up to his promise of cleaning up the water on First Nations land. Will any Canadian forget Trudeau’s smirk as the protesters were led away? Does anyone really believe that if this was say Montreal or Oakville that had poisoned water as opposed to Attawapiskat or Grassy Narrows that Trudeau would not have thrown every possible resource into fixing the issue?

An interesting historical fact related to this is during the Constitutional talks of the early 1980s prime minister Pierre Trudeau resisted calls to allow the First Nations at the table. It took pressure from a foreign conservative leader (British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who didn’t want to have First Nations protests outside of 10 Downing Street) and the New Democratic Party to get the First Nations a seat at the table.

The opening is here for the Conservatives as history shows the Liberal party is no friend to the First Nations. The Conservatives must commit to a new relationship with the First Nations that will encompass land claims, treaty rights, First Nations languages, etc. A strong platform idea that would truly make the Conservative party stand apart from the Liberals would be opening up the Constitution and make the First Nations truly one of the “founding races” of Canada to which they are. For example, Quebec is guaranteed three seats on the Supreme Court of Canada. Why not give three of the remaining six seats to the First Nations? How about guaranteeing the First Nations a certain number of senators just as all the provinces are given? This would be a fresh approach to the Constitution and again finally allow the First Nations to feel truly a part of Canada.

The environment and First Nations rights are two very positive areas for the Conservatives to focus on that will differentiate them from the other parties.

Craig Wallace is a Hamilton resident, an author of five books and a student of history. His fifth book “Canada in Pieces” is a dark, apocalyptic vision of the future and is available on Lulu.com, as well as Amazon.ca.

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