Political pundits have been busily declaring the way forward for the Conservative Party is to the left. That would be the worst possible outcome of this election for all Canadians. Moving to the left would leave a wide swath of Canadians without any representation. Worse, it would remove the most important social conservative value from the public square. The left, centre, and many right leaning people take this value for granted.
This socially conservative value has been stuffed into a closet and its time to "out" it. The social conservative value is "freedom of conscience," or the more modern-sounding "freedom of choice."
You may ask: "How is freedom of choice a conservative value? All I hear about is social conservatives want to restrict choice!"
I grant that too often that has seemed to be the message, but therein lies the problem - and the opportunity - for the right-of centre party, currently the Conservative Party of Canada.
First though, an historical tip: freedom of conscience was a primary tenant of the Anabaptist movement that came out of the Reformation. After years of church and state being joined, people died for their right to believe, and act, as they chose without interference of the government.
Past Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (a Liberal!) espoused the idea of freedom of conscience when he said: "There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."
However, unlike consenting adults' sexual preferences which Trudeau referred to, some rights compel others to act, and sometimes against their will, so then whose conscience wins?
Politically, do we compel our federal party leaders to actively participate in and advocate for things they don't believe in, in effect telling them they must, in order to be qualified to run for our top office?
Force Andrew Scheer to march in a Gay Pride Parade, Justin Trudeau to march for 40 Days of Life, and Jagmeet Singh to take holy communion in a Catholic church? Force Elizabeth May to whip her MPs to vote against their conscience, and Justin Trudeau to reinstate Jody Wilson- Raybould as justice minister?
Interesting, but let's rather not.
None of these is a good look in a free country.
We also need to consider that our rights, at some point, require assistance from others in order to be properly fulfilled.
For example, if I have the right to clean water, is someone compelled to provide it? If I have the right to an education, who provides it? If I have the right to a late-term abortion, who is compelled to perform it? If I have a right to die by assisted suicide, who is compelled to kill me? If I have a rare disease and require drugs that cost millions of dollars a year, is my life worth more than your right to keep a few more dollars in your pockets to save for your kid's education?
This problem of balancing rights and restrictions opens up an opportunity for the Conservative Party to build policy and campaigns around the freedom of choice. Only in conservatism can freedom of conscience find its best expression. It is the value that fits perfectly with the more well-known conservative values of smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation, and most importantly, few, if any, laws compelling certain behavior.
Governing is both representation and leadership. The Conservative leader that can clearly, confidently, articulate a vision of a Canada that values personal choice by protecting the right to act (representation,) and without compelling people to act against their conscience (leadership,) will be the one that can attract people from the right - and the left.