A new day is dawning across the land. Stephen Harper is banished to the shadows and “sunny ways” are peeking into the windows of the blue riding of Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo.
Justin Trudeau, in his victory speech, chose not the words of his famous father but Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. Laurier had characteristics that many regard as distinctly Canadian: a conciliator and compromiser, one of the longest serving prime ministers in history from 1896 to 1911.
Laurier once said, when resolving conflict: “If it were in my power, I would try the sunny way… of patriotism, asking… to be just and to be fair, asking… to be generous to the minority, in order that we may have peace among all creeds and races.”
Sunny ways are infusing the defeated Conservatives. After the election, Harper lieutenant Jason Kenney told the national press that the Conservatives had been too negative. “I think our obvious weakness has been in tone, in the way we’ve often communicated our messages. I think we need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than we have sometimes conveyed.”
Reelected MP Cathy McLeod echoed the sentiment. “One of the things Jason Kenney said — sunnier ways — perhaps would have been more enticing,” she told Kamloops This Week.
As well as getting used to being in opposition rather than in government, McLeod is going to have to get used to expressing her own opinions rather than echoing the party line. As a former nurse, I’m sure she has a lot so say about protecting and improving our public health care system. Now she can happily champion health care –that’s the new way.
After being under the thumb of Harper for so long, the new freedom will require some adjustment. But McLeod might be more effective in opposition than she ever was in government.
While sunny ways may seem a bit Pollyannaish, Canadians are ready for a return to true Canadian values; distinctly different from the thuggish ways of Harper’s Canada.
Jaime Watt, political analyst and panelist on CBC’s The Insiders, characterizes what sunny ways look like:
“In electing Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to a majority government, Canadians are seeking a return to the values they believe have traditionally defined our society: civility, kindness, inclusion, collaboration. This quest to feel good about ourselves will inform how the new government’s policies and actions, in every sector, will be judged.”
Watt’s research firm, Ensight Canada, conducted focus groups across Canada before and after the election. They found that Canadians were not necessarily rejecting Conservatives but instead Harper. “Rather, they were repudiating a leader and a tone that did not align with who they aspire to be. That was particularly true for first-generation citizens who expressed a strong sense of what it means to be Canadian.”
Harper’s brand of Conservatism has been an aberration. His iron fist brought Progressive Conservatives and the prairie populist Reform Party together with a cost. The Harper government was neither progressive nor grassroots.
The only way the Conservative Party can regroup is under a banner that recognizes Canada as an open and caring society.