It is time for an open and frank discussion about why the PCPO lost, because "We didn't adhere to conservative principles" isn't going to cut it.
I am tired of losses and setbacks, and also victories, being explained by this phrase, which has become so devalued as to become meaningless. If a conservative wins an election, they are principled conservatives. If that conservative loses, it's because they abandoned those principles. If there is a conservative government, that government may be behaving in a ridiculously unprincipled fashion, but so long as they appear to be making progress, nobody rocks the boat too much. I have lost count of the number of times people called Harper unprincipled. It didn't stop him from winning a majority.
At best, "lack of conservative principles" is only one factor. People talk about it as though it is the only factor, and this ends right now. Unless we identify and examine the specific reasons why we lost, we will learn nothing.
Reason number 1 why we lost: We tried to force the issue on people. This needs to stop.
Since the leadership, our party- and that includes all four leadership candidates, all MPP's, and a large percentage of our base- has been opposed to the HST. It's hard for me to remember a time when the HST and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing has not dominated any discussion I've had with any political person.
People don't like taxes. The PC Party of Ontario thinks that taxes are bad and wants to identify Dalton McGuinty as a tax hiker. Wedge issue identified! Commence outrage!
So we called it the Dalton Sales Tax, asked people to fill out anti-HST petitions, and drove a forklift into the Legislature bearing HST amendments.
Meanwhile, out in BC, people didn't like the HST either. But out there, they took a radically different approach: instead of an opposition party jumping in with both feet, former Premier Bill Van Der Zalm led the charge. Sure, the B.C. NDP stoked the fires, but instead of constantly reminding people that the tax was horrible, they let the people of B.C. draw that conclusion on their own. The resulting referendum claimed Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell. Here in Ontario, the two Liberals to have held the position of Revenue Minister- John Wilkinson and Sophia Aggelonitis- lost their seats, but Dalton McGuinty lives to fight another day.
I get why we did it. We needed to stop the John Tory practice of going along with whatever Dalton said. But in the process- by making it "our issue"- we prevented it from becoming something the people could be mad about without becoming attached to a political party.
Making it our issue also means we have to deal with Liberal counterattacks, such as them calling our bluff and asking why we didn't repeal the tax if we were opposed to it. We also had to deal with people like John Tory saying he supported the HST. The people don't have to deal with counterattacks. If the people are genuinely angry- like they were the first time Dalton's sex-ed program came to light, or when they discovered the eco-fees had been slipped in- then, more often than not, Dalton will back down in some way.
Other times, we would try to make some issue people never heard or didn't understand of into an issue they should be infuriated about. The Debt Retirement Charge. The LHINs. The Samsung deal. On their own, these are objectionable, but Dalton is smart enough to keep just enough details about these items under wraps.
If we really want to discover a wedge issue that's going to burn Dalton, we need to amplify the things people are already angry about. Everyone knows about the Mississauga power plant and how we tried to make it into an issue that would swing some seats our way. But instead of working quietly with the group that brought the issue up in the first place, we ignored them.
While frustration simmered with the Liberal Ontario government's approval of the Eastern Power plant in 2008, many seemed equally frustrated with the Conservatives.
Not one Conservative candidate invited to the meeting attended.
"I used to be a card-carrying member of the Conservative party," CHIP's Rohn said.
"I'm disgusted. Not one of them bothered to show up tonight. All the other parties did."
Oddly enough, we managed to win a bunch of seats down south when our candidates there vocalized their opposition to wind turbines after realizing that people didn't like them. They didn't force the issue, they recognized there was one and acted appropriately. You think there might be a connection?
There are people out there in Ontario who want to defeat Dalton McGuinty. It shouldn't be hard to find them.