John Robson: The Vacuousness of the ‘Pragmatic Conservative’ Position


With a vote looming, and widespread disgust at polarization and ideology, perhaps we can all get behind the major political figure who said, “I am unique in that I’m neither left nor right, but I’m also not a mushy moderate. I’ve always stood for something.” Provided we can figure out what that thing was. Or in which election. Or who he was.

Was it Doug Ford, whose party is poised for re-election in Ontario for being neither left, right nor… um… can’t remember? Or someone the federal Tories will soon choose to lead them to defeat whenever Jagmeet Singh realizes blindly supporting a party he openly despises is fatuous?

Perhaps Jean Charest, who wants to reform stuff, not tear it down. Or Scott Aitchison, who would do whatever nicely. Not Leslyn Lewis, whose firm beliefs too often involve the WEF. Or Roman Baber, who everyone forgets. As for Patrick Brown, well, let’s ask him.

In a recent interview with the National Post’s John Ivison, Brown did the usual thing about winning through his winly winningness, saying Poilievre has big rallies but “we don’t see him signing up members.” And he and Charest, and probably Lewis and Aitchison (yes, he forgot Baber) “would agree … Poilievre simply isn’t electable … Pierre is too extreme.”

Really? Poilievre has positions, and an attitude. But if he has a philosophical framework he’s not telling. Whereas Brown’s is very postmodern. Confronted over an ethics breach, he replied, “the fact that I keep getting elected in the areas that Conservatives can’t get elected, or haven’t been elected, shows that voters do trust me, in the sense that they wouldn’t vote for someone that wasn’t (trustworthy).” Which is oddly circular, like winning with winnability.

Still, he’s so far from unique he’s stereotypical in being committed to lack of principle. On climate he’s for and against carbon taxes, and “we don’t necessarily need an Ottawa-knows-best approach.” Though we might: “we’ll have a policy convention where the entire membership will have an ability to work together and build a plan that is meaningful and balanced as to the affordability issue and the ability to combat climate change.” Just as on judicial activism, he shunned principle to denounce a particular hot-button decision and was pro-notwithstanding clause without being so.

See, it’s all about the pragmatism. “I believe in a big tent Conservative party … my approach to conservatism is to say I’m a pragmatic conservative or a kitchen-table conservative where we’re going to be reasonable and act in a manner that helps Canadian families. I’m not going to dogmatically follow a position if it’s not in the best interest of Canadian families. For me, the litmus test is going to be: ‘how does this make life easier or more affordable for the average Canadian family?’”

It’s not obvious why he’s not interested in what works for single Canadians or those in non-average families, or how he’d define “family.” And while such rose-tinted political references seem increasingly obligatory as the thing itself disintegrates, I ask: What does he think he means?

Who’s out there dogmatically, or flexibly, seeking whatever hurts Canadian families, is in their worst interest, or makes their lives harder or less affordable? Apart from all the “pragmatists” backing stuff like agricultural marketing boards that predictably have that effect? Because the thing is, everyone has a worldview, and the unexamined philosophy, like the unexamined life, is a recipe for unprincipled thrashing or mindless conformity.

So who’s the luminary sage who uttered the profound, inspiring, reasonable words at the start? Paul Martin, perhaps? No. He said, “I’m not an ideologue. I’m very pragmatic, all right? What’s going to work?” Gary Doer? “We should evaluate things not on the basis of ideology, but results.” Someone slightly less centrist? But “The old distinctions [of right and left] are doctrinaire and they don’t work” was Alexa McDonough.

As for Ronald Reagan, his version was, “Isn’t our choice really not one of left or right, but of up or down?” And “The terms left and right have no real meaning any more” comes from (ulp) Austria’s Jörg Haider.

Hint: “He’s a practical man. He doesn’t say, ‘It’s a leftist policy,’ ‘It’s a rightist policy,’ but rather, ‘It’s a solution.’” No, sorry, that was Ed Broadbent on Jack Layton. Maybe “We’re neither left wing nor right wing. It’s about what’s best for Ontario.” Aargh. George Burns of the Ontario Party of Canada in 2002. And “neither right nor left – we are in front” was the federal Greens in 2004.

Aha. Was it the guy who “is not a centrist or a moderate at all, but a politician who has managed the impossible task of being both a successful left-wing leader and a credible right-wing leader at the same time”? Alas, a Globe and Mail pundit on Tony Blair.

The original was from Richard Nixon. And he can keep it.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”

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