Conservative Family Policy: Lessons from the North

It’s still too premature to estimate how this debate will finally be resolved. Although Romney’s proposal was lauded in a few wonky and social conservative circles, its conservative critics have created many arguments about work disincentives, fiscal outlays, etc.

A significant portion of the discussion is about competing policy perspectives. But one gets the sense that the debate also reflects conflicting views about the political future of American conservatism: Why is it about ongoing down a Trumpian path of identity and grievance politics, doubling down on the classic Republican policy agenda of tax cuts, trade, and globalization, or calculating a fresh, policy-oriented working-class course?

I’d submit that, as American conservatives discussion this question, they may have the ability to draw lessons from recent conservative expertise in Canada. Its track record indicates that such a strategy can finally create positive coverage and political outcomes.

Specifically, the Harper administration’s creation of a Universal Child Care Benefit to comprehend the societal value of parenting and also head off a national child-care system suggested by its innovative opponents may offer salutary lessons for American conservatives from the context of the present child benefits argument.

Conservative intellectuals Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam are rightly credited for foreseeing the political fecundity of working-class populism in their 2008 publication, Grand New Party: How Republicans can win against the Working Class and Save the American Dream.

They argued at the time the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement required to adjust their policy schedule to better represent the issues, interests, and aspirations of non-college-educated voters when they were able to compete at a political context that has been realigning along academic lines.

“Should you make conservatism related to normal working people, you ensure it is the most effective political doctrine in Western democratic society” He lacked the considerable policy ideas that Douthat and Salam put ahead, but he instinctively discerned what they’d seen roughly eight years earlier. His working-class populist message enabled a unique path to success over the presidential leader and finally in the general election.

There are various things that caused the Republican Party to ignore Douthat and Salam’s admonitions, however there’s a legitimate debate that, though it was well-researched and strict, their strategy only involved a level of danger and uncertainty that Republican lawmakers were reluctant to take on. They had been in effect calling on elected Republicans to shift away from a group of policies and issues for which they’d developed muscular memory over almost 3 years. Politicians are, if anything else, leery of the untested, unfamiliar, and unfamiliar.

Harperism: Working-Class Conservatism in Canada

I have sometimes wondered whether the situation for a brand new, working-class conservatism would have been strengthened by pointing into the political and policy accomplishments of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in this time.

It was not merely an intellectual exercise either. The Canadian experience revealed a conservatism oriented into working-class interests, concerns, and aspirations could really be highly effective as a political proposal.

Harper’s political vision was about bringing conservative thoughts to bear on behalf of working-class citizens. As he said in a 2006 interview:”If you create conservatism related to normal working people, you ensure it is the most effective political doctrine in Western democratic society. Where Conservative parties are more powerful, and effective on a continuing basis, that’s what they do”

His governance record reflects this important insight. Harper understood that contemporary conservatism is greater than just the amount of marginal taxation rates and government spending as a share of GDP. Conservatives need to have a limited yet optimistic vision for authorities that addresses bigger questions such as the use of the family within our society, the socio-cultural roots of poverty and purposefulness, and the societal costs of crime and addiction. 

As he summarized in a 2003 speech Before becoming prime minister:

There are real limitations to tax-cutting when conservatives cannot dispute anything about how or why a government actually does what it does. If conservatives accept all legislated social liberalism with balanced budgets and corporate licenses –as do a few in the business community–there really are no differences between a traditional and a Paul Martin [the centrist Liberal prime minister in the time]. 

There’s, of course, more to be done in fiscal policy…. Conservatives must be more than contemporary liberals in a rush. 

The fact of the matter is that the real agenda and the defining issues have shifted from economic issues to social values, so conservatives have to do exactly the same.

Thus, Harper sought to reorient Canadian conservative coverage considering the macroeconomic priorities of previous decades (for example, uncompetitive marginal tax rates, bloated government spending, along with over-regulation) into a new pair of microeconomic and societal issues that were salient with working-class voters.

This intellectual shift proved to be good politics. The Conservative Party basically halved its”gender gap” between male and female voters and continued this demanding ratio during most of its tenure. It also made considerable profits with non-college-educated, working-class guys that similarly held up during its time in office. The net effect was supposed to win three straight national elections such as the first Conservative majority triumph in almost a quarter century at 2011.

The nation went in the post-WWII universal family allowance into some means-tested, income assistance program for households with children in the 1980s due largely to budgetary aspects.

Even the Conservative Party under Harper suggested restoring an international child benefit in its 2006 election stage. The UCCB will supply $100 CAD ($78.35 USD) per month for each child under age six irrespective of household income or the way the funds would be used. The coverage case was mostly about positive externalities: a universal child benefit hunted to comprehend the gap between the personal costs and social returns of increasing another generation. It had been in effect a public coverage confirmation of the societal value of parenting or what’s been described in the policy literature because of”parental recognition goal.”

Putting an international child benefit in the middle of the party’s policy agenda was a significant departure from its conventional political and policy orthodoxy. Nevertheless Harper and his team (like Ken Boessenkool who had written in favour of international child gains in the late 1990s) viewed the UCCB as part of a broader shift from the Conservative Party’s positioning from”economic issues to social values”   

A contributing factor was the then-Liberal authorities was beginning to consciously pursue a brand fresh national child-care frame where it would transfer funds to provincial authorities to establish what amounted to some publicly-funded and publicly-delivered child-care model that adheres to some frequent set of national criteria. The idea had a very lengthy pedigree among Canadian progressives dating back into some Royal Commission on the Status of Women from the early 1970s.

However, this was merely a technocratic debate about the best way of supporting families with children. It became an expression of competing values regarding parental option, the part of the nation, and the way we think about paid and unpaid work.

As I summarized in a recent essay, the position has been aided by two variables. The first is that a majority of Canadian households with children below the age of four in the time employed a mixture of home made daycare and other personal arrangements for their child-care requirements and therefore were by and large failed by the Liberal administration’s one-size-fits-all model.

Harper intuitively understood that conservatives have to apply their fixed principles to new and evolving problems when they are to remain responsive and relevant to the voting public in general and working-class voters in particular.The second was an infamous, mid-campaign gaffe when a Liberal spokesman complained to a television panel that parents would abuse the dollars under the Conservative plan to buy”beer and popcorn” This political misspeak highlighted the technocratic, government-knows-best underpinnings of the Liberal Party’s child-care suggestion and introduced into better focus the values-based choice before voters.

The net impact was to position the Conservative Party since trusting and supporting parents compared to the Liberal Party who didn’t seem to trust parents to make the best choices for their own families. It’s challenging to discern how fundamental this political contrast was to the Conservative Party in the ensuing election, however there isn’t any question it was a significant theme especially in the wake of the”beer and popcorn” incident. It’s no collision, for instance, a typical Conservative message at the last days of the campaign was the party believed the”real experts on increasing children are moms and dads”

The Conservative Party finally won the 2006 electionand the incoming government canceled its predecessor’s national child-care framework and executed the UCCB in its first year . It produced positive effects on child poverty in Canada, had minimal (even largely positive) employment effects for parents, and finally became one of the Harper administration’s trademark policies over its almost ten years in office.

Courses for American Conservatives

As important as Canadian conservatives’ encounter with child gains isthe bigger lesson here is about the translation of conservative thoughts and principles to some working-class schedule. Harper intuitively known that conservatives should apply their fixed principles to new and evolving issues whether they are to remain responsive and relevant to the voting public in general and working-class economists in particular.

This is not a call for governmental compromise. It’s rather a recognition that conservatism is more than a restricted set of policy places: it’s a framework to observe the world as it actually is. Its ideas and principles are repaired but its application into new and evolving topics is always dynamic. This process was described by Yuval Levin as a practice of”applied conservatism.”

It’s a great descriptor of Canadian recruits’ positioning on child gains in particular and Stephen Harper’s political doctrine more generally. It amounted to the interpretation of conservative principles concerning choice, subsidiarity, and also the significance of the family association into the practical question of the increasing costs of raising young children.

That’s exactly the kind of political and policy recalibration that Douthat and Salam pictured in their publication. Theirs was not a call to abandon conservatism but instead to apply and translate into a brand fresh set of problems applicable to working-class voters. Even the Harper government’s encounter with the UCCB shows that they had been on the perfect path.

The choice prior to American conservatives is so about more than the particular design details of Senator Romney’s kid allowance proposal. It’s about the Republican Party’s future orientation: will it shift its policy schedule to better meet the demands of its working-class foundation as Douthat and Salam put forward more than a decade back? Or will it continue to advance a more traditional Republican policy agenda that looks increasingly disconnected from its voters?

Nevertheless, the Canadian conservative record proves it is not just an exercise in expediency. The result can be to incrementally shift governance and policy in an employed conservative direction.