As Canada's right wing gathers this weekend in Ottawa, the conservative movement finds itself looking in a strange -- and somewhat dangerous -- place for inspiration.
Conservatives attending the 2013 Manning Centre networking conference will hear from the usual roster of cheerleaders, political practitioners and ideological elders. But this year's keynote is something different. A surprising guest whose ideas can only be described as completely outside the Canadian mainstream: former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul.
Mr. Paul is well known in the United States for his radical notions. Often described as the "intellectual godfather of the Tea Party," Mr. Paul takes libertarian philosophy to new heights. His positions and policies are offside most U.S. Republicans, let alone Canada's more temperate Red Tory traditions.
One need not dig too deeply to figure out why.
In a 2007 CNBC interview, Mr. Paul suggested that the US Federal Reserve should be abolished in favour of a system of competing currencies: "We can't get rid of the 'Fed' in a day or a week but we could legalize competing currencies...if people don't like competing currencies... they can opt-out and start dealing in gold and silver."
In his 2011 book, Liberty Defined, he opined that, "We need to give up our dependence on the state... it is far better to live in an imperfect world than it is to live in a despotic world ruled by people who lord it over us through force and intimidation." I am left scratching my head at this bizarre statement: which despotic agents of the state, exactly, is Mr. Paul referring to? Doctors? Nurses? Social workers? All of the above?
Mr. Paul has been particularly outspoken on a number of other important issues. As a self-described "unshakeable foe of abortion," he has gone so far as to introduce legislation "which would negate the effect of Roe v. Wade." Mr. Paul opposes gun control because he believes it "clears a path for violence and makes aggression more likely." Go figure. Mr. Paul even wants to abolish the minimum wage: during a 2011 Republican primary debate, he argued that "minimum wage is a mandate. We're against mandates so why should we have it?"
Climate change -- which all Canadian political parties have now acknowledge to be real -- is still a fantasy to Mr. Paul. He suggests that "I don't think there's a conclusion yet... if you study the history, we've had a lot of climate changes."
Mr. Paul has spoken candidly about his views on sexual harassment in the workplace. During a Fox News interview, he stated that "...if people are insulted by, you know, rude behaviour, I don't think we need to make a federal case out of it... people should deal with it at home."
And on key votes he has frequently been virtually alone in speaking against what is essentially a right-left societal consensus. On the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act's passage, Mr. Paul was the only Congressman to vote against a resolution hailing the Act, and even gave a speech to Congress claiming that it "violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty."
I could go on. Mr. Paul's record of opposition to most ideals Canadians hold dear is very lengthy.
The Manning Centre is, of course, free to invite anybody they wish to their party. Even the Tea Party. But my grandmother used to tell me that "You're known by the company you keep", which seems to me a fair comment in life as in politics. Of all the conservatives the Manning Centre could have invited to be the star attraction at their annual shindig, why Ron Paul? Is this supposed to be a foreshadowing of the future direction of Canada's conservative movement? Which of his, frankly, bizarre ideas does the Manning Centre agree with? How does the Centre see Mr. Paul's contribution as being a positive addition to our Canadian political conversation?
Most importantly: Which pieces of Ron Paul's extreme agenda do Canadian conservatives harbor the ambition of importing?
Canada's conservative movement has been working overtime over the last few years to convince Canadians that they are mainstream and on a roll. It is no surprise that my organization and I disagree with both the philosophy and (alleged) facts behind these conservative arguments. By welcoming Ron Paul to Canada, however, it is difficult to see how the Manning Centre furthers even its own stated objectives.
"One side doesn't give up one penny on military spending, the other side doesn't give up one penny on welfare spending. While both sides support the bailouts and the subsidies for the banking and corporate elite, and the spending continues as the economy weakens and the downward spiral continues."
"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."
"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."
"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?"
"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?"
"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?"
"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?"
"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."
"Due to the ill-advised drug wars and the endless federal expansion of the criminal code, we have over 6 million people under correctional suspension, more than the Soviets ever had and more than any other nation today, including China. I don't understand the complacency of the Congress and willingness to continue their obsession with passing more federal laws. More sentencing laws associated with drug laws have compounded our prison problems. The federal register is now 75,000 pages long and the tax code 72,000 pages, and expands every year. When will the people start shouting enough is enough and demand Congress to cease and desist?"
"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."
"I never believed that the world, our country can be made more free by politicians if the people had no desire for freedom. Under the current circumstances, the most we can hope to achieve in the political process is to use it as a podium to reach the people to alert them of the nature of the crisis and the importance of their need to assume responsibility for themselves. If it is liberty that we truly seek, without this a constitutionally protected free society is impossible. If this is true, our individual goal in life ought to be for us to seek virtue and excellence and recognize that self-esteem and happiness only comes from using one's natural ability in the most productive manner possible, according to one's own talents. Productivity and creativity are the true source of personal satisfaction."
"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."
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