OTTAWA - Former Republican presidential candidate and libertarian Ron Paul will be the marquee speaker at Canada's premier gathering of Conservatives next month, a figure that even organizers bill as controversial.
Paul will speak to the Manning Centre for Building Democracy's networking conference, an event that in the past has drawn Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his key cabinet members and advisers.
Paul, referred to by some pundits as the real inspiration behind the Tea Party movement in the United States, is one of the foremost voices for small government — including eliminating foreign aid, the education department, key social programs and the war on drugs.
He is staunchly anti-abortion, anti-gun control, and opposed to President Barack Obama's health-care reform. The 77-year-old has advocated for an end to Medicare and Medicaid in the United States.
A Texan, Paul is a former doctor turned congressman and currently the chairman of the Campaign for Liberty. He was able to assemble a loyal following over the course of two Republican races in 2008 and 2011, notably with the use of the Internet.
"We oppose the dehumanizing assumption that all issues that divide us must be settled at the federal level and forced on every American community, whether by activist judges, a power-hungry executive, or a meddling Congress," says the campaign's website.
"We believe in the humane alternative of local self-government, as called for in our Constitution."
Olivier Ballou, a spokesman for the Manning Centre, said centre president Preston Manning himself will engage in an on-stage discussion with Paul following the former presidential candidate's speech.
"He's definitely our biggest attraction and source of controversy," Ballou said. "He's one of those guys that people either love him or hate him. It's fascinating since we announced him seeing the debates online."
On the Manning Centre's Facebook page, commenters were divided about the wisdom of having Paul speak at the conference.
"Ron Paul is a fool who will only discredit this fine attempt at preparing conservative minds for the future," read one post.
"Ron Paul is the best politician in the U.S.A., the real deal. Very smart man, can't believe he isn't President he's so smart," said another.
Conservative parliamentarians who are on the schedule for the conference were markedly terse in their reaction to Paul's participation.
"I actually have heard him speak in the past, and while I disagree with what he says on occasion, I'll defend to the death his right to say it," said Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
"The Manning Centre conference has a history of bringing up a wide variety of different speakers to appeal to a wide variety of different audiences, so I don't think that'll be any different this time around," said Calgary MP Michelle Rempel.
Although there are many libertarians in the ranks of the Conservative party, including Harper himself, Paul's small government is a different breed than that expressed publicly by Conservatives in power. Universal health care, official languages policy and supply management are just three areas that would be anathema to Paul's positions.
Participants might more in common in another speaker — former Australian prime minister John Howard. Some in Harper's team borrowed liberally from Howard's campaign and communications style over the years.
Opposition MPs said it's telling that Paul was selected to speak to Canada's top Conservatives.
"We know that the right in Canada are getting loonier all the time, but I think it's very telling that they're bringing in Mr. Ron Paul," said NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus.
"Mr. Ron Paul is a marginal figure in the United States where the right are extremely right wing, so the Harperites think they're going to learn lessons from him? It might show an indication of where their backbench is certainly wanting to go."
Said Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia: "I don't understand what wisdom Mr. Paul can bring to the Canadian setting. We're a very different country with very different issues."
Paul courted controversy earlier this week when he tweeted that the "death of a former NAVY Seal at a shooting range confirmed that 'he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense."'
Paul is strongly non-interventionist when it comes to American military activities, and voted against the war in Iraq.
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The Two Sides
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"Some decide what and whose freedoms to be limited. These are the politicians whose goal in life is power. Their success depends on gaining support from special interests. We don't need more isms. The great news is the answer is not to be found in more isms. The answers are to be found in more liberty, which costs so much less."
"The insidous nature of the erosion of our liberties and the reassurances our great abundance gave us evolved into a dangerous period in which we now live. Dependency on government largess. Today we face a dependence on government largess for almost every need, our liberties are restricted and government operates outside the rule of law, protecting and rewarding those who buy or coerce government into saving their demands."
Erosion Of Rights
"The PATRIOT Act and FISA legislation passed without much debate, resulted in a steady erosion of our fourth amendment rights. tragically, our government engages in preemptive war, otherwise known as aggression with no complaints were the american people. The drone warfare we are pursuing worldwide is destined to end badly for us as the hatred builds for innocent lives lost."
"It's now the law of the land that the military can arrest American citizens, hold them indefinitely without charges or trial."
Medical Marijuana & Hemp
"Why are sick people who use medical marijuana put in prison? ... Why can't American manufacturers make rope made from hemp?"
"Why is it the TSA is permitted to abuse the rights of any American travel by air?"
Drug War & Prison System
"Why should there be mandatory sentences, even up to life for crimes without victims as our drug laws require? ... Why haven't we given up on the drug war since it's an obvious failure and violates the people's rights? Has nobody noticed that the authorities can't even keep drugs out of the prisons? How can making our entire society a prison solve the problem?"
Foreign Intervention & War
"Why do we sacrifice so much getting this -- getting necessarily involved in border disputes and civil strife around the world and ignore the root cause of the most dangerous deadly border in the world -- the one between Mexico and the United States? ... Why can't people understand that war always destroys wealth and liberty?"
"Why did the big banks, the large corporations and foreign banks and foreign central banks get bailed out in 2008 and the middle class lost their jobs and their homes?"
Trust In Government
"Why should anyone be surprised that Congress has no credibility since there's such a disconnect between what politicians say and what they do? Is there any explanation for all the deception, the unhappiness, the fear of the future, the loss of confidence in our leaders, the distrust and anger and frustration? Yes, there is. And there's a way to reverse these attitudes. The negative perceptions are logical and a consequence of bad policies bringing about our problems. Identitification of the problems and recognizing the cause allow the proper changes to come easily."
"Why does the use of religion to support a social gospel and preemptive wars, both which require authoritarians to use violence or the threat of violence, go unchallenged?"
Strangers With Badges
"No one claims it's permissible to go into one's neighbor's house and tell them how to behave, what they can eat, smoke, and drink, or how to spend their money. Yet rarely is it asked why is it morallly acceptable that a stranger with a badge and gun could do the same thing in the name of law and order. Any resistance is now [met] with brute force, even imprisonment. This is done more frequently every day without a search warrant."
"Since 9/11, monitoring speech on the Internet is now a problem, since warrants are no longer required. The proliferation of federal crimes. The Constitution established four federal crimes. Today the experts can't even agree on how many federal crimes are now on the books. They number into the thousands."
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"Those who take us into undeclared wars with many casualties resulting never lose sleep over the deaths and destruction their bad decisions cause. They are convinced that what they do is morally justified in the fact that many suffered just can't be helped. When the street criminals do the same thing? They do have no remorse, believing they are only taking what is rightfully theirs."
Productivity & Creativity
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Changing Hearts & Minds
"It's also become clear why progress is best achieved while working with coalitions which bring people together without anyone sacrificing his principles. Political action, to be truly beneficial, must be directed toward changing the heart and minds of the people, recognizing that it's virtue and morality of the people that allow liberty to flourish. The Constitution or moral laws, per se, have no value if the people's attitudes aren't changed. To achieve liberty and peace, two powerful human emotions have to overcome. Number one is envy, which leads to hate and class warfare. Number two is intolerance, which leads to bigoted and judgmental policies. This must be replaced by a better understanding of love, compassion, tolerance and free-market economics. Freedom, when understood, brings people together. When tried, freedom is popular."