CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Columnist Mark Steyn says if the culture is liberal, it doesn't matter if the government is conservative.
Moral issues, such as abortion and the traditional family, have receded to the background in the Canadian conservative movement.
The annual "barometer," a yearly poll commissioned for the annual Manning Networking Conference held in Ottawa Feb. 27 to March 1, reveals abortion is low on the public agenda of not only the Canadian public, but also self-identified conservatives.
"Dealing with euthanasia," however, remains high on the agenda among both constituencies, according to the poll.
The Manning Conference offered break-out sessions featuring debate on what form Canada's prostitution laws should take and on the controversial Charter of Quebec Values, but nothing on euthanasia.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) offered a session on its latest research on the widening "marriage gap" between rich and poor Canadians.
The vast majority of sessions, however, dealt with a range of other issues ranging from Senate and democratic reform, to aboriginal economic development and foreign investment.
Preston Manning, former Reform Party leader and founder of the Manning Centre for Democracy, gave a keynote address March 1.
Manning urged the movement to see its next steps as rebuilding conservative strengths on economic policies such as eliminating deficits, tax relief and private sector job creation as well as addressing the needs of consumers.
He also urged the development of a "green conservatism."
Manning, who is an evangelical Christian, did not mention the hot-button moral issues in his speech but throughout the conference, the plight of the family and the battle to win back the culture formed a backdrop.
Bestselling author and columnist Mark Steyn said a Conservative government makes no difference as long as government bureaucracy and the wider culture remain liberal.
"Culture trumps politics," he said. "Once every few years you can persuade the electorate to go out and vote for a conservative party. But if you want them to vote for conservative government, you have to do the hard work of shifting the culture."
"Because if the culture's liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, fashionable business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a conservative ministry isn't going to make a lot of difference."
Steyn said the "most consequential act of state ownership of the late 20th century Western world" was not the nationalization of airlines, railways or health care, but the "nationalization of the family."
The state increasingly pays for retirement, health care, the care of children and the elderly, leaving families with no incentive to save or reproduce, he said.
Steyn warned of the demographic problems of the upside-down family tree with fewer and fewer grandchildren to support more and more grandparents.
In an address March 1 examining lessons for Canada from the conservative movement in the United States, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat spoke of how the decline in churches, families and communities have created insecurity, especially among unmarried and single-parent women.
This insecurity has resulted in "more desire for the welfare state" and the "social safety net," he said.
Problems such as obesity, family breakdown and other social problems that once only afflicted the lower income groups are moving up the scale to affect the middle classes, he said.
Douthat, a Catholic social conservative, noted some of the libertarian strains in the Republican Party are "too individualistic to deal with the breakdown of civil society."
He urged a redesign of the tax code "with families in mind" and more stress on education reform. As well, more attention should be paid to removing barriers to upward mobility.
The sixth annual conference sponsored by the Manning Centre for Democracy is the biggest non-partisan event drawing conservatives from across the country.
IMFC executive director Andrea Mrozek said, "Conservatives need to get comfortable thinking about the family, otherwise, other aspects of trying to create a smaller, tighter ship in Canada are ultimately doomed to fail."
"There's definitely a disconnect amongst some fiscal conservatives who don't realize that their best laid plans simply don't work without a certain element of social conservatism," said IMFC communications director Eloise Cataudella.