“If it were in my power I would try the sunny way…Do you not believe that there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than to compel them to do a thing?”—Sir Wilfrid Laurier
“Sunny ways my friends, sunny ways.” When Justin Trudeau quoted Sir Wilfrid Laurier on election night he unleashed a sunnier, more optimistic way of doing politics…the Conservatives were all over it in a heartbeat.
They jettisoned their cloudy ways like moths emerging from their cocoons. New and old-stock Conservatives alike hit the airwaves to make it clear that it was their botched tone, not their mean spirited policies, that cost them the election.
Well, maybe they weren’t quite that blunt.
Jason Kenney said, ”On substantive points, we’ve been a very good government. I think where we went wrong was on tone and we have to learn from our mistakes…We need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than what we have sometimes conveyed.” He didn’t explain how he’d describe Duffygate, the Syrian refugee crisis, the niqab issue or stripping Canadians of their citizenship in sunnier language.
Newly elected Conservative, Tomasz Kmiec said, “We do best when…we talk about the issues in a positive way, that sunny kind of conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher…that’s what we need to bring back”.
Margaret Thatcher? The if-you-want-to-cut-your-own-throat-don’t-come-to-me-for-a-bandage Margaret Thatcher?
Deepak Obhrai said, “The core Conservative values, of course, won’t change, but we’ll have to put forward a little softer face.”
Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool suggests the “softer face” should be a woman’s face because “…the Canadian public is not only ready, but prefers, female candidates over male candidates.”
Michelle Rempel would love to be the Conservative’s “softer face”. However in a recent Twitter cloud burst she undermined her chances by slamming the Conservative party who, she said, would reject her as party leader because she’s too young, too bossy, too female and too inexperienced. It wasn’t exactly Ms Rempel’s sunniest hour.
Lisa Raitt is one of the few Conservatives who hasn’t jumped on the tone bandwagon. She says policy discussions are “tough conversations…on difficult topics, and it’s not all easy all the time.” Instead of focusing on tone she suggests the party dig into the data to find out who voted for the Conservatives and who didn’t and why.
Interestingly, Ms Raitt is a sunny Conservative. When asked how she felt about moving to the opposition benches she said she welcomed the opportunity to focus on her constituents. “That will be a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the leader of the federal Liberals when Manitoba passed legislation blocking public funding for Catholic schools. The Catholic minority asked the federal Conservative government to intervene. The federal government passed legislation “commanding [Manitoba] in the most violent language” to reverse its position or else. Manitoba’s premier flew into a rage over the feds’ violation of the division of powers between the feds and the provinces and called an election which he won, further damaging the federal Conservatives’ credibility.
The Conservative government eventually fell to Laurier’s Liberals. One of Laurier’s first acts was to implement his “Sunny Ways” policy. He asked the Manitoba premier to be just, fair and generous to the Catholic minority and proposed a compromise: Catholics could have a Catholic education if there were enough students to warrant it. This would be determined on a school by school basis. Manitoba’s premier accepted the compromise and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Sunny ways isn’t about tone. If it were Laurier would be known as the prime minister who sweet talked the Manitoba premier into complying with a draconian federal law. Sunny ways is about substance. When faced with a fractious and volatile problem Laurier met with Manitoba’s premier and created a solution that satisfied the Catholics and the Protestants as well as the governments of Manitoba and Canada.
Sunny ways is about what you do, not how you say it.
The Conservatives, with the possible exception of Lisa Raitt, haven’t grasped that yet. Until they do, brace yourselves for an onslaught of cheerful Conservatives taking selfies and cradling sleeping babies all the while spouting the same old un-sunny Conservative policies.
Not exactly the Eureka moment we were hoping for.