No Shining Path
Tasha Kheiriddin, foreword by Lisa MacCormack Raitt, The Right Path: How Conservatives Can Unite, Inspire and Take Canada Forward, Toronto: Optimum Publishing International, 2022, xi + 194 pp. ISBN 978-0-88890-331-0 (Paperback) ISBN 978-0-8890-332-7 (ePub), reviewed by Mark Wegierski
In her foreword, former prominent Conservative MP Lisa MacCormack Raitt complains that she might now be put through a “purity test” (p. x) as to whether she is conservative enough. She concludes – “What remains to be seen is which message will win the day – will the Big Blue tent hold, or will we dissolve into populism?” (p. xi). This sets the stage for the main text, in which Trump and populism are portrayed as noxious things that Canadian Conservatives should strenuously avoid. The tone is even set by Kheiriddin’s book dedication – For Papa, who always told me, “Take the middle way.” (p. v).
Tasha Kheiriddin is a prominent moderate-conservative activist, media personality and newspaper columnist. She considered running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada in the 2022 leadership contest, but instead became the campaign co-chair for Jean Charest’s leadership bid. Jean Charest was a Minister in Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government of 1984-1993. He was also the Progressive Conservative Party leader between 1993 and 1998, noted especially for refusing to reach an accommodation with Preston Manning’s Reform Party – which he branded as bigoted. He became the Liberal Premier of Quebec in 2003-2012. His main rival for the CPC leadership is Pierre Poilievre, a longtime Conservative MP, who served effectively as Finance Critic, and who is moving towards populism. He expressed support for the Freedom Convoy that took place in Ottawa in late January and early February 2022. The protest was crushed by a massive police deployment, when the current Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act (the equivalent of martial law).
In the introduction, “The Day Trump Came to Canada” (pp. 1-14), Kheiriddin endorses the prevalent demonization of both Trump and the Freedom Convoy (the trucker protests that shook Ottawa in late January and early February 2022). She describes Trump’s supporters as “a nativist movement rooted in grievances against immigrants and elites.” (p. 12) She ignores evidence that Trump was in fact a civic nationalist, and that his success with the economy resulted in measurable gains for the black community. She uncritically accepts the liberal media’s take on the Freedom Convoy. However, she does identify a group she calls “Convoy Conservatives” – as opposed to “Club Conservatives”. She too complains that centrists are being frozen out of the current-day Conservative Party. She argues that populism is a path to political defeat.
Chapter One, “The Harper Years: Recasting the Canadian Narrative” (pp. 15-26) recounts the endeavours of Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister from 2006 to 2015. Enjoying a majority government in 2011-2015, Harper did little to help either small-c conservatives (a term used in Canada to describe more ideological conservatives, as opposed to the “big-C” Conservative Party, which was frequently less ideological) or social conservatives. His government was weakened by the Canadian Senate expenses scandal, especially apropos Senator Mike Duffy (pp. 25-26). Kheiriddin does not consider the evidence that the liberal media magnified this scandal.
Chapter Two, “The Trudeau Years: From Sunny Ways to Stormy Days” (pp. 27-37) discusses the success of Justin Trudeau. This was due in part to the Syrian refugee crisis, when the Conservatives were perceived as insensitive re the “Barbaric Cultural Practices” tip line proposal (pp. 30-31). This proposal was ill-conceived, and has done enormous damage to Conservative prospects among visible minority immigrant communities, but it, too, was enormously amplified by the liberal media. Kheiriddin criticizes Trudeau for his high spending policies – a somewhat facile criticism.
Chapter Three, “Trudeau’s True Legacy: Stoking the Woke” (pp. 38-47) contains some irksome asides about American politics, such as the implication that white racism was the main motor of Trump’s success (pp. 40-41). Kheiriddin also evinces a surprisingly favourable assessment of Obama. She does, however, highlight the wokeness of Justin Trudeau.
Chapter Four, “Populism in Canada: Everything Old is New Again” (pp. 48-61), looks at some earlier populist parties in Canada, including the Progressives and the Social Credit Party. She also praises John Diefenbaker, the staunch Tory Prime Minister of Canada from 1957-1963. However, she invokes the dark spectre of conspiracy theories supposedly espoused by Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, concerning the World economic forum and the convoy protests. (pp. 56-58. She insists: “…these theories should not be given the time of day by the Conservative Party or any legitimate political party.” (p. 58).
Chapter Five, “Conservatism in Canada: Building the Big Tent” (pp. 62-70), critiques the unqualified embrace of “freedom” by the Convoy Conservatives, counterposing this to some classical conservative notions of restraining freedom in the name of the common good. In chapter Six, “Opportunity Knocks! Will Conservatives Answer?” (pp. 71-82) the author suggests that Conservatives replace the rallying cry of “freedom” with “opportunity”. She states:
It is about appealing to Common Sense Canadians on the basis of Canadian conservative values, not aping their American populist counterparts. It is not by chanting “freedom,” pledging to defund the CBC, making it easier to use Bitcoin, and promising to make Canada “the freest country on Earth” that Common Sense Canadian voters will be won over. (p. 80)
Chapter Seven, “Immigration Nation: The New Canadian Vote” (pp. 83-98) makes the case for continued high levels of immigration, claiming that: “Current immigration goals are thus based on meeting the needs of the labour market.” (p. 83). But why not address instead the current reproductive failure of Canada, and consider ways the country’s birthrate could be raised, for example by tax credits for having and raising children? Kheiriddin proposes some sensible outreach activities to immigrant communities.
Chapter Eight, “A Country of Cities: The Urban Vote” (pp. 99-115) contends that anti-abortion stances are unlikely to attract urban support, but that a focus on public safety could be popular. Kheiriddin points to the importance of the housing affordability issue, and suggests that if Conservatives could put forward workable solutions, they would gain many urban votes. She also proposes that conservatives run as city councillors and school board trustees.
Chapter Nine, “Courting Young Canadians: Millennials and Gen-Z” (pp. 117-131) looks at some fascinating socio-demographic studies which divide these cohorts into attitudinal sub-groups, described by various colourful nicknames. Kheiriddin believes that some members of those sub-groups may be potential conservatives. Chapter Ten, “The West, the Rest, and the Best: A National Vision for National Unity” (pp. 132-146) elaborates a “vision…of Canada as a global energy superpower.” (p. 141) This vision, argues Kheiriddin, would achieve important goals for all of Canada, including reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples.
In the conclusion “Return of the Liberal-Conservative Party?” (pp. 147-150), Kheiriddin notes that this was the original name of the founding party of Canada, led by Sir John A. Macdonald. In a riposte to Pierre Poilievre’s campaign slogan, Tasha Kheiriddin writes: “Government’s role does not lie in removing gatekeepers. It lies in building fair gates and providing more keys.” (p. 150)
The book is poorly edited in places. For example, the text reads “…when he [Harper] was elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.” (p. 15) In fact, the leadership election took place in March 2004. Likewise, it is asserted that “…the PPC [People’s Party of Canada] lost their only one [seat] in the 2021 election.” (p. 55) In fact, Maxime Bernier lost his seat in the 2019 election. These errors suggest that the book was hurried into print to influence the CPC leadership race.
Canada, today, is adopting extreme forms of “political correctness” and moving towards what has been called the ideological hegemony of left-liberalism. It is arguably only Canada’s vast, resource-based wealth that allows it to avoid dystopic and violent outcomes. The weakness and incoherence of the Centre-Right Opposition, especially in the 1980s under Brian Mulroney, was critical in this context. The Liberals (frequently supported by the left-wing New Democratic Party) have practiced, in contrast, activist, transformational politics for decades – fundamentally changing Canada. The Conservative response has invariably been feeble.
This reviewer maintains that the embrace of so-called moderate conservatism – when the “centre” of the Canadian political spectrum has been lurching leftward for decades – is the path to perennial conservative failure.
[The book has acknowledgments (pp. 151-152), a photo and bionote of the author (p. 153), notes (pp. 155-181), and an index (pp. 183-194)]
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher