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Voters give new meaning to ‘peace, order and good government’

In America, a country with a robust declaration of national character, the people like to tease that Canadians’ ambition is merely “peace, order and good government.” Rather than fighting for liberty or justice for all, we simply want a quiet neighbourhood, they sneer. Ontario and now Alberta voters have, however, given that anodyne phrase new meaning, new political consequence.

A well-governed, democratic and peaceful society must be one built on tolerance. In a nation of immigrants it must also be an inclusive community. Tolerance and inclusion require compromise, in private life, politics and in government. This is the powerful contemporary message of “peace, order and good government.” Parties of the right have dramatically failed to understand this in each of these two pivotal provincial elections.

The Ontario Tories flirted with race, with ethnic division and with homophobia in their desperation to gain traction on a Liberal government sailing to re-election despite its wobbly performance in managing Ontario’s recession-battered economy. They were pushed back to support from a base that is too male, aging, rural and small town to ever win. They at least had the wit to blush and to issue denials when caught, but they did not drop the whispers on robocalls or on the doorstep. And Ontario voters punished them for it.

Their Alberta ideological cousins, the Wildrose Party, bungled even more seriously. When their candidates made overtly racist and homophobic remarks, and were roundly attacked from all sides, including by Calgary’s impressive young mayor Naheed Nenshi, party leader Danielle Smith refused to disown them. She refused on several occasions to discipline the candidates or to condemn their remarks.

Indeed, Smith could fairly be accused of using an American-style “southern strategy” to quietly signal to her rural Alberta base that those views and the voters who held them were welcome in her party. The 80 per cent of Albertans who live in the same proudly diverse cities and towns as Canadians in every other province reacted exactly as Ontarians did last year. They rejected that vision of their province, decisively. So in old railway and cattle towns in southern Alberta and in the booming resource communities in the north, Albertans said, “No, thank you, that’s not our community, our Alberta or our Canada.”

Pundits and pollsters in both campaigns were blind to the importance of this new POGG nation. They fixated on fiscal rectitude, tired incumbents and voters’ demand for a change. These are always powerful vote drivers. An overspending government long in office and seen to be insensitive to voters’ angst is usually ripe for defeat. Unless it is being challenged by an opponent who fails to understand the bedrock of modern Canadian values.

A generation of young federal Conservative ministers — John Baird, Jason Kenney, James Moore and Peter Van Loan — not a Red Tory among them, have quietly but determinedly nudged their base to an acceptance of this political reality. Federal Conservatives are today proudly part of the community celebrations of Canadians of every ethnicity. More important, it is a very long time since one has heard a Harper Conservative say something as stupid as the claim that white men make the best Canadian politicians.

Their opponents will continue to claim that it is merely cynical politics that have led the federal Conservatives to an understanding of the fatal consequences of being seen as the party of angry, rural, homophobic, old white guys. Perhaps, but it is hard to point to stupidities such as the claim that radical gay teachers were promoting transgender sexuality or that eternal hellfire awaited everyone except Christian heterosexuals on the part of Ottawa Tories. They should be given credit for embracing an inclusive vision of Canada, within their frame of conservative values of family and tradition.

The vast majority, perhaps two-thirds of all Ontario and Alberta electors, have sent the Canadian political establishment a resounding warning: “We are proud of this new Canada. As conservatives and progressives, as new Canadians and old, we are proud to be citizens of the most successful, culturally, socially and ethnically diverse nation in the world.”

And as Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak and Danielle Smith learned painfully, they are happy to smack any politician who threatens this new POGG nation.

Voters give new meaning to 'peace, order and good government'