Commentary | Hyde Park: Bring on stimulating conservatism

Stimulus shmimulus! That was about all Andrew Coyne had to say about the Conservatives’ new budget on last Wednesday’s broadcast of CBC’s The National. A London School of Economics alumn and former columnist with the National Post, Coyne has long been a defender of freer markets, lower taxes, and smaller government. Everyone expected that he would strongly denounce the oh-so-stimulating budget as a reckless spending spree, but his criticism went much further than that.

Having come so close to seeing Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, Mr. Coyne believes that conservatism has gone the way of the dodo. He could barely contain his disgust in stating that the Conservatives’ embrace of counter-cyclical spending means the “extinction of conservatism as any kind of coherent political movement or philosophy” in Canada. These are strong words from a man who is often touted around in the media as a prominent right-winger.

But we really should give the fiscal conservatives a break – they’ve been so frustrated for so long. Contrary to popular opinion on campus, Stephen Harper has presided over the fastest increase in the size of the federal government in a generation. Even when adjusted for inflation and population growth, his Finance Minister has introduced the largest budgets our nation has ever seen. And that was true before the global financial crisis led to the re-embrace of Keynesian economics.

The Prime Minister would likely argue that he’s spent previous billions in a responsible and productive manner, something about fixing a fiscal imbalance, cutting the GST, and buying our army guns to shoot terrorists with. He’d probably argue that the current billions will be spent to build needed infrastructure and help our economy overcome the worst non-violent threat to our lifestyle since the Great Depression. He is an economist after all. Nevertheless, what does it mean for Conservatives to question some tenants of this thing called “fiscal conservatism?” And without it as a bedrock, what is left to unite Conservatives except for the even less sexy option of “social conservatism?”

I would argue that it is healthy for a political party to occasionally question some of its most strongly-held beliefs. All parties are necessarily amorphous to a certain extent, and alter policy based on systemic changes or revised philosophy. It would also be completely irresponsible and, well, just downright unconservative to ignore world events simply because they might question some of your ideas. Liberals and socialists are supposed to be the ones with their heads stuck in the sand waiting for earthly utopias, not good conservatives.

And so a confluence of factors has forced our current government to rethink their usual rhetoric about lower taxes and prudent spending. The specter of a global depression has led them to spend billions in the hopes of filling in for a slack in consumer demand. A triad of opposition parties has threatened them with a veritable coup unless they can shovel the money out fast enough. And still, an endless array of interest groups and experts claim that even more red ink should be spilled to drown our economic woes; not to mention the media’s stimulus envy whenever our piddling sums are compared to the girth of the American package.

While I respectfully disagree with Mr. Coyne about conservatism’s fate, it is undeniable that a paradigm shift is occurring. Quite frankly, I think it’s about time. The development in Afghanistan is not going fast enough, our economy remains heavily dependent on natural resources, a separatist party holds undue sway in Parliament, too many First Nations people live in rural slums, and global issues of hunger and climate change have been ignored. Conservative politics can offer solutions to all of these. It’s high time my party moved beyond tax cuts.

Clarke Olsen is a U3 Political Science and Economics student, and the President of Conservative McGill. You can reach him at