I had dinner with my oldest daughter recently, she recently back from two years abroad. At some point in the meal, she asked something like, 'Why is the UCP government giving money to big oil and not to environment mitigation initiatives?'
In my erudite way, I tried to explain a Conservative government’s penchant for economic development, for free enterprise as the driver of this development, for fiscal propriety and for business to contribute to the public’s well-being through jobs, opportunity, growth and tangential social benefits, including environmental stewardship and management.
I can’t recall exactly what was said next but I do remember pouting over a lost argument. I couldn’t convince her – not because she didn’t get it (she is smart, far more than me), but because my base case was weak. I didn’t get it!
Sure, a strong economy is essential to a strong society, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Nor is a healthy and robust environment. I’ve always argued that economy trumps everything in politics and government, for without it, who pays for what? I’ve even gone back to caveman economics, that they needed to hunt, fish, grow, trade to survive. Arguing with my daughter, and listening believe it or not, I realized I’ve been wrong in my perspective. Our natural environment trumps everything, for without it we don’t exist to have an economy. How could I miss such a simple truth?
I’m conservative and Conservative: an old-style Progressive Conservative (an oxymoron to some) who believes in free enterprise, limited government stimulation and regulation. I don’t mind debt as long as it’s managed and manageable, repaid in a timely manner. I do believe in government investment in and good management of education, health, social services, public infrastructure and the arts. These public investments support society and therein the economy; they are also hallmarks of a progressive, inclusive society. I even support a carbon tax, partly because I support user fees and user-based taxation more than general taxation because it becomes mostly my choice and my cost on taxed purchases, and partly because I think over time it will be beneficial to individuals and the environment.
Hence, if I’m so smart, where did I and we Conservatives go wrong?
By the very nature of our conservatism, that’s where! Change is hard for us; revolutions are unthinkable. Some don’t even believe in evolution, but we all believe in modest, evolutionary government. And we can miss significant societal trends. For example, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is known for his opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Okay. His mistake is not his beliefs – he’s entitled to them. His mistake is confusing his beliefs with public opinion, public welfare and public leadership. Furthermore, his environmental policy was flawed, as is Mr. Kenney’s.
There is merit to government taxing big industrial polluters and enabling environmental technology. The problem is it isn’t enough and their public demand more. Conservatives are right on the value of enterprise and economy; however, we’re beginning to miss the market. I know this better now, partly thanks to a precious young woman.
Roger Jackson is a former civil servant and a St. Albert resident.