I have a challenge you can help me with.
Right now, and please don’t second-guess yourself, think of the word conservative. What does it mean to you? Hold that thought, please.
While I’m quite comfortable with change, I also take comfort in tradition. I believe in standards & best practices. I believe in the rule of law – I’m a lawyer – I value the principles given to me by my elders. That’s what I mean by conservative. And I’m not afraid to say that out loud.
In fact, I’m tired of hearing ‘conservative’ being framed, often disparagingly, as a right-winger with views cast in concrete. It’s polarizing. People are simply trotting out a script. My journalist colleague calls it ‘message track’.
For a moment, please resist the temptation to pick a political ‘side’. Here’s the challenge I mentioned off the top: What do you mean by conservative?
I live in Alberta, so the question for me starts with what it means to be a conservative here. I grew up in Ontario, and although I’ve been long gone, I can’t deny a certain conservative influence – nearby America and it’s heartland, too. But, surprisingly, it’s my father’s recent passing that has crystallized some things for me.
I’m the feminist who left the farm for the bright lights of the city. I studied law to understand ‘rights’. In spite of all that, my roots in that fertile farm soil never came loose. They still have a firm hold on my values and how I see the world.
To recap: I’m trained as a lawyer. Was a provincial politician. Founded an NGO to train women in Yemen. I’ve even been a corporate insider. I get the power of rules and laws. The conditions were ripe for me to become a rights-wielding social justice warrior. But I’m not. Rarely do I rely on rights, alone, to move justice forward. My motivation comes from inside. Like it or not, I have an unshakeable sense of personal responsibility. I inherited this, from my father.
To me, that’s the essence of being conservative.
I’m no libertarian, eschewing all government. There’s a role for strong government to stabilize the economy, and to intervene when needed to deal with jobs and economic futures. To work with the private sector and others to protect the vulnerable. To be clear though, personal responsibility motivates me more than laws and rules. Take away my ability to make choices, and replace it with government’s authority, and I’m in agony.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to take a deep dive into this problematic question of what it means to be conservative in Alberta. And it’s heartening knowing I’m not alone in this quest. Many of you are reaching out, asking questions.
I invite you to this space – I’m building it with partners — that will evolve here and a spot I trust you’ll begin to see yourself in. And I want to hear from you. I need to hear from you. How do you embrace traditions, build on history and conserve what is good…and all the while remain open to the new?
I promise to share with you what I learn. In podcasts, in blog posts, maybe even in cartoons and pictures. And I welcome your honest feedback.
This past week, I’ve had amazing & intense conversations with Albertans who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with one of Alberta’s most remarkable leaders, Peter Lougheed. He was a progressive conservative. Both words: progressive and conservative might mean very different things to you.
Why? Because Alberta is in crisis right now. More than ever, we need to understand how we went about building a better Alberta, decades ago. And how what we learned, then, can be applied to today. It’s not the first time Alberta’s economy has been bludgeoned by other governments in our own country. It’s not the first time Alberta has had no choice but to be formidable in defending our place in Canada’s Confederation.
Right now, outsiders are telling Alberta’s story. And we’re letting them. We need to do a better job of telling our own story, to one another and to the world.
And part of our story is what it means to be a conservative in Alberta.
Donna Kennedy-Glans, May 28th 2018