The conference draws the biggest names of Canada's conservative movement and this year features former U.S. congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, who kicked off Friday's events in conversation with former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.
Paul, America's foremost libertarian, received a standing ovation Friday from Canadian conservatives gathered for an annual conference, after a speech that advocated the abolition of central banks, income tax and social programs.
But on the sidelines of networking conference, sponsored by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, some Tories noted that Paul's views were disconnected from the more moderate Canadian conservative movement.
Few Conservative parliamentarians attended Paul's morning speech, in which he encapsulated his views on the primacy of individual liberty and the problems with current economic models — all centred on the concept of government getting out of the way of people's lives and the free market.
Paul — formerly a Republican leadership candidate — is an opponent of centralized monetary policy, government support for industry, federal social programs and the regulation of illicit drugs. At home, he has advocated for the abolition of the federal health and education departments.
"Wouldn't it be correct to assume that the fruits of your labour are also yours to keep?" Paul said, interrupted by applause.
"My goodness that would be a challenging thought. What does that mean? There wouldn't be any income tax? That's right, we wouldn't have income taxes, because it would be your money.
"Then everyone would start worrying then how would you pay for the government? Well, why don't we have a lot less government and we wouldn't have to worry about that. That's what I'd like."
Preston Manning, the former Reform party leader and host of the conference, later asked Paul questions but did not challenge his views.
The current Conservative government under Stephen Harper has heavily branded its stimulus project — the Economic Action Plan — as the cornerstone of the government's agenda. Its skills programs, funding for seniors and snowmobile clubs, and various industrial sectors would appear antithetical to Paul's non-interventionist policies.
Harper himself, at a speech to the conference in 2009, explored the weaknesses of dogmatic allegiance to libertarianism.
Manning attributed the exuberant response to Paul's speech as evidence that conservatives are willing to explore tough questions.
"What you should observe from this conference is that conservatives are not afraid of self examination," Manning said.
"We don't just have conferences to self-congratulate ourselves on previously established positions, which I would argue is the dominant characteristic of the Liberal leadership conference right now."
Friday's panels include Conservative ministers Jason Kenney and Maxime Bernier on their party's future, Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel, Joan Crockatt and Candice Bergen talking about conservative women in politics and former Indian Affairs minister Chuch Strahl chairing a discussion aboriginal policy after Attawapiskat.
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