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Not just for so-cons: Why fiscal conservatives should vote FCP

By Pete Vere
web posted September 8, 2003

While contemplating my discomfort over the Ontario election, I came across Steve Martinovich's following statement: "Unfortunately for conservatives, Eves seems less than willing to carry on this revolution of tax cuts, fiscal responsibility and business friendly policies which have fostered economic growth and job creation. [...] Should I reward someone who seems to be abandoning the policies of Harris or should I help hand McGuinty victory by staying home. Does it matter?"

I know the feeling. Ann Coulter once remarked about swing voters: "I like to refer to them as the idiot voters because they don't have set philosophical principles. You're either a liberal or you're a conservative if you have an IQ above a toaster." Under normal circumstances, I might agree with Miss Coulter. Yet how should a principled conservative vote when the party changes principles? Although tempting, voting for the toaster simply spoils the ballot.

Of course, voting Liberal or New Democrats spoils the economy. But voting for the Progressive Conservatives now raises questions of its own. As a social and a fiscal conservative, I find Mr. Eves unacceptable. He not only fudged the same-sex marriage issue, but he lives with a woman who is not his wife. And as Steve already noted, Mr. Eves appears to be abandoning the fiscally conservative policies of his predecessor. PC may not yet stand for political correctness, but nor does it carry the same connotation under Ernie Eves as it did under Mike Harris.

From my experience with American politics, leaders such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush who stay the fiscal conservative course are primarily social conservatives to begin with. On the other hand, Republicans who abandon fiscal conservatism while in office tend to have been weak social conservatives. In essence, social conservatism breeds the virtues of individual responsibility and personal restraint that underlie fiscal conservatism.

With this in mind, perhaps conservatives should take an honest look at the Family Coalition Party (FCP) before casting their next vote. Granted, the Family Coalition has yet to achieve major party status in an Ontario election. During the last few elections, however, several FCP candidates gathered a respectable one to two percent of the popular vote. It would only take one or two seats this election to render the FCP a viable conservative alternative in future provincial elections.

And viably conservative the Family Coalition Party is. Although founded upon the undying principles of social conservatism, it is neither fair nor accurate to dismiss the FCP as a party of one-issue moralists. In reading through their campaign platform, one finds the FCP's fiscal policy much more in keeping with the principles of Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution than one finds the PC's fiscal policy under Ernie Eves.

In fact, one of the things I find interesting about the Family Coalition Party is that unlike many other social conservatives I come across, the party resists the temptation of paleo-conservative protectionism. According to their campaign literature, the FCP "supports the long-term removal of all measures that insulate industries, businesses, financial institutions, professions and trade unions from domestic and foreign competition." In this sense, the FCP appears much more in tune with the global thinking of modern conservatism than the federal PCs under David Orchard.

Thus the FCP's social conservative roots provide for solid fiscal conservative policy. The party clearly explains this correlation in their policy handbook. "The family has an important and necessary role in protecting and nurturing life," one reads. "This role makes the family, rather than the individual, the basic building block of our society. When families are strong and prosperous, democracy and economic enterprise flourish. Strong families lessen problems in many areas of society; e.g.: marital separations, child abuse, teenage rebellion leading to alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, runaways, school drop-outs, vandalism, theft and violence. Strong family ties and stable relationships are economically and socially beneficial, leading to fewer cases of single parents, better job stability, more productive members of society and decreased welfare costs."

Because strong families make for a robust and free-market economy, and vice-versa, the Family Coalition Party proposes an education policy more in tune with the free market than the current status – or should I say statist? – quo. "The state should not push its own political agenda onto children in classrooms," the policy manual states. "Choice is to education what competition is to business. It unleashes the pent-up creativity of educators, in response to consumer demands. Just as competition works to improve quality and lower prices, so taxpayers will save money when parents are allowed to choose in the education marketplace. Choice is the catalyst that will drive other school reforms -- it will spark innovations in teaching, management, and learning."

Among most American conservatives, vouchers and school choice has become standard conservative policy south of the 49th parallel. So too has the involvement of industry and technology in co-operative education. There is no reason why Ontario should not innovate and adopt this free market approach to education. As Alberta proved with charter schools, where parents and students are offered several choices concerning education, the quality of public education improves in order to compete with private education.

Healthcare is another area where the Family Coalition Party offers both a creative and conservative approach to reform. While not totally sympathetic to the American system of privatized healthcare, the FCP still goes further than any of the mainstream parties in shifting some of the responsibility to the individual. In short, the FCP would tie the cost of healthcare usage directly to one's pension benefits. This is a variation of the high insurance deductible and medical savings account combination that has become popular in the United States. It basically provides financial protection in extreme medical emergencies while discouraging abuse of the system.

John Pacheco, a financial analyst, is the FCP candidate for Ottawa-South – which just happens to be Dalton McGuinty's riding. As John explains, "The FCP will introduce Medical Savings Accounts, to provide an incentive for people to use the system wisely and, at the same time, to help people save towards their pension. For instance, the government earmarks $2000 in an MSA account for each person over 18. At the end of the year the ‘leftover' amount, if any, will be rolled over the person's RRSP. [...] In this way people will essentially spend money that could be theirs whenever they use healthcare. This will promote PREVENTION, good lifestyle habits and good use of the health care system. A nice side advantage is that if you start at 18, the compounded interest to age 65 could allow you to have enough in a few years to replace the Canada Pension Plan."

Principled conservatives, particularly farmers, will also find the FCP's agricultural policy encouraging. Long the subject of interference by urban and liberal politicians, the Family Coalition Party proposes something truly novel – let farmers, rather than politicians, look after the farm. By their nature, farmers are an entrepreneurial lot. Even the Soviets discovered this the hard way. In order to alleviate food shortages, communist party leaders were forced to concede private plots of land back to the farmers. Whatever the farmer then produced on his private plot he could sell on the open market. Reportedly, the two percent of the land conceded in the form of private plots accounted for over twenty-seven percent of the annual produce.

The Family Coalition Party approaches agriculture in much the same way, allowing farmers easier access to the free market while substituting a more honest method of taxation. The FCP "has always believed that the family farm is one of the basic building blocks of Ontario's economy." Therefore, the Family Coalition Party "will eliminate the Land Tax Rebate by removing the education portion of taxes from agricultural land, and add education taxes to taxable incomes," while proposing "Right to Farm" legislation. "The farming sector must be free to operate responsibly," the Family Coalition Party maintains, "without interference regarding standard farm operating practices."

While the party's approach to social assistance is fairly standard among conservatives, it bears repeating nonetheless. "Social assistance programs should not act as a disincentive for an individual to reach self-sufficiency," their policy handbook states. "The Ontario Coalition will require people receiving Social Assistance, who are capable to do so, to perform community services or get job training or education while receiving benefits. This will allow for easier integration into the community." This more or less resembles Mike Harris' welfare reform and workfare platform in the Common Sense Revolution.

Nevertheless, the FCP policy is somewhat more flexible in allowing for a graduated approach off of social assistance. "The Ontario Coalition does not believe that Social Assistance recipients should give up part of their benefits while receiving income from a part-time occupation," the policy handbook states. From my own experience growing up in Ontario, I witnessed welfare recipients drop out of school or quit part-time low income jobs because social assistance benefits were cut. These folks would then return to social assistance, where their benefits were restored. Therefore, I feel the Family Coalition's openness towards a graduated approach off of social assistance is a fair compromise for conservatives; rather than keep people ensconced in the system at the expense of the taxpayer, it encourages people to work towards self-reliance.

With regards to government spending and taxation, the party's campaign literature raises at least one alarming statistic. "One person in three is either working for the government, a government agency, board or commission, or is providing services to one of the above." As most conservatives are aware, a bloated bureaucracy makes for a sluggish economy. Besides privatizing crown corporations and non-essential government services, the Family Coalition Party promises to "reduce the budget of all government Agencies, Boards and Commissions by 10% the first year and initiate a review the second year with a view to eliminating as many of them as possible." The FCP also promises to "reduce personnel in government ministries by about 5% per year through attrition."

Additionally, "competence and merit" will determine who the civil service retains or hires. This would also extend to the private sector, as a FCP government would "reconsider the legislation on pay equity, employment equity, and labour relations, with the intent of creating a better, non-confrontational economic climate and with the intent of favouring business investments. Job applicants should be evaluated solely on the basis of merit." Another Family Coalition Party target is the complete elimination of "public funding of opinion polls and non-essential government advertising," along with the total elimination of "public funding for special interest groups." Again, these are the types of promises that initially drew me as a fiscal conservative to the Common Sense Revolution.

For the most part, it is not the government's responsibility to create jobs and micro-manage the economy. Rather, this should be left up to the private sector with the government only interfering when necessary. Thus I agree with the Family Coalition Party's minimalist approach to government. As one reads in their campaign literature, "It is through the private sector, and not government, that economic growth and job creation are fostered. Job creation can only occur if taxes are reduced [...] Today families are overtaxed and government gives little incentive for initiative and productivity."

In the end, fiscal conservatism has not died in Ontario politics with the retirement of Mike Harris. Rather, in reading through policy handbook of the Family Coalition Party, I noticed many creative innovations of the Common Sense Revolution. In short, the FCP has built their fiscally conservative policies into a solid electoral platform. So rather than hesitate at the ballot box over Ernie Eves, consider casting your vote for the Family Coalition Party as a serious conservative alternative in the October election.

Pete Vere, JCL is a canon lawyer and a Catholic social and religious commentator from Sudbury, Ontario. He now writes from Florida, where he and his family enjoy no state income tax along with life within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. His work has been published in numerous Canadian and American Catholic publications.

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