Since announcing my intention to join the Conservative Party of Canada, just this past Friday, I’ve run into a number of points of confusion about what this means. I’d like to take a moment to clear these up.
- This is a new idea
Left leaning Albertans have been taking out conservative party membership for decades, long before Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell suggested it on Twitter, because in a province with such a strong, enduring conservative leadership, joining the party was the only way to feel like you had any control over who ended up running your province. A friend’s mother called it being an “Instantory”—a portmanteau of Instant and Tory, which I love, and so have used in the title of this post. She did this twice during leadership races but ultimately gave up when people like Ralph Klein just kept getting voted in.
- Joining the Conservative Party requires you to go to an actual party.
As much as I like the idea of acquiring a Sarah Palin chestnut wig to cover my blue hair and spending a few hours at Value Village tracking down the kind of matching skirt and blazer that would make an Ayn Rand heroine jealous, it’s not actually necessary. Like most things these days, voting for the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is carried out remotely.
Someday in April, I’ll be getting a ballot, which I will fill out and mail back and the deed will be done. I won’t even have to prep a number of stories about hunting deer with my grandpa’s rifle to charm party members into submission before I willfully subvert their party’s democratic processes. Sadly.
- By donating money to a party I disagree with, I’m giving them more power.
Though a basic membership only costs $15, this part did give me pause. But as several people have since pointed out, the easiest way to counter this is to donate equally to other parties down the road.
- Buying a membership means you are married to the party for life
The basic membership to the Conservative Party of Canada is for a period of one year. When it runs out, you never have to go back.
- You will have to vote Conservative in the next election
Voting is private for a reason. No one has any means to control whom you vote for at any time in your adult life.
- Joining the Conservative Party is unethical.
According to the party’s constitution, the only requirements of membership are that you are over 18, have personally pay your fees, do not currently belong to another party, signify your intention and that you actively support the 22 principles laid out in their constitution, which is available here.
A careful read of the principles shows a party mandate that is broad enough to incorporate just about anyone who isn’t staunchly against the idea of individual property ownership. But even if you are a dyed-in-the-wool communist, there’s no test to weed out those who don’t perfectly adhere to the principles. There isn’t even a box to tick on the online form. If there were, at least two names in the leadership race list would have to be struck off because of their commitment to racism and xenophobia, alongside anyone who disagrees with the idea of socialized medicine or the equal status of French and English.
But a political party’s constitution is a living document subject to change in favour of political expediency or pressure from the left or right. Though they were far from perfect, the Conservatives in the 1950s and ‘60s, were a more centrist bunch than they have been over the last decade. It was the decision to meld with the socially conservative Alliance party that gave us all those Stephen Harper years. I’d like to try to pull the party back to its roots.
- The party will look at my social media feed and know I don’t belong.
Former Kelly Leitch campaign manager Nick Kouvalis floated this pernicious idea in August 2016 when he told MacLean’s Magazine that the campaign was using fake news on Twitter to record possible Instantories.
But think about the waste of time and money that would go into contesting all votes that don’t perfectly align with the party’s stated goals. I’m not sure many of us would want to live in a country where parties monitor people’s social media presence to catch those who don’t perfectly adhere to its rather broad values. Imagine the headlines: “Conservative Party Strikes Off Members Who Aren’t Perfect Conservatives.”
So I say, go ahead and try! And then send me my $15 back.
- By joining the Conservative Party, I’m disrupting the democratic process.
Quite the opposite. I’m not stealing a vote from anyone or silencing anyone. I’m making myself heard. I don’t harbour any illusions that my one small vote will do much of anything, but at least I’m doing something.
- There’s no one to vote for.
I’m not going to lie to you—with the possible exception of Michael Chong, this year’s conservative race is a hot mess.
I don’t think of this as choosing a single candidate to get behind, but rather as framing the discussion at the federal level. Imagine if large numbers of centrist Americans had joined the Republican Party before the primaries—Trump’s bombastic trolling might have been cut off before it infected the 2016 election pool.
- It doesn’t matter who joins the leadership race because they will never be as terrible as Trump.
This is worst trap of all. If we start measuring all politicians by the most horrifying example available, they will literally be able to get away with anything. Look at Justin Trudeau—all he has to do is sneer at Trump and we are willing to forgive him anything.
Measured with this stick, people like George W Bush and Stephen Harper start to look kind of reasonable. They were and still are monsters with as much disrespect for the electoral system as any reality TV star. They just knew how to talk a little more smoothly (which, I realize, is a ridiculous thing to say about W, but here we are), and if anything, that made them more dangerous.
- It’s too late to vote in the leadership race
To vote in the leadership race, you need to join by March 28 at the latest, just over a month from publication of this post.
So, if you have in mind the political party you would like to see the Conservatives become and you aren’t currently a paid member of another party, I encourage you to join as well and be a part of the democratic system. At the moment, it’s the best way I can think of to show respect for democracy. Then I encourage you to do the same with the Liberals and the NDP (once your membership expires). Because in the end, it’s our government, and when the opportunity arises to do something to move it in the direction of being better, then the ethical choice might just be to swallow your pride and do something.