Nigel Wright: What Canada’s new Conservative leadership thinks about CANZUK

8 Mar

Nigel Wright is the London-based Chair of Canadian Conservatives Abroad (CCA). 

With the United Kingdom’s recent withdrawal from the European Union, the country finds itself needing to negotiate new free trade deals to expand market access for its products and services. This position provides a unique opportunity for the UK to work more closely with other like-minded, Commonwealth countries, to not only allow for free trade between nations, but to come together and advance their shared democratic values on the world stage. A Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom (CANZUK) alignment could benefit not only these countries but also the wider global community.

Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Official Opposition of Canada, championed CANZUK during his leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada. Citing Canada’s long history of championing the rule of law, human rights, and standing with its allies to defend democratic values globally, O’Toole sees CANZUK as an opportunity to adopt a policy of “aspirational multilateralism,” where these like-minded Commonwealth countries work not only to advance the wellbeing of their citizens but also work to promote a commitment to democratic values on the world stage.

O’Toole’s commitment to CANZUK should not come as a surprise to those familiar with Canadian politics or the policies of the Conservative Party of Canada. In addition to specifically calling for a CANZUK Treaty, the Conservative Party’s official policy states that Canada’s government should work with foreign nations to reduce protectionist policies, in turn allowing for the establishment of free trade agreements.

In fact, one of O’Toole’s predecessors as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, doubled the number of countries with which Canada has reciprocal free trade agreements. Simply put, reciprocal free trade is an important part of present-day Conservative party policy.

Since becoming leader, O’Toole has also made it his goal to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party of Canada. In his televised victory speech after he won the leadership, O’Toole introduced himself to Canadians, telling them that everyone “has a home in the Conservative Party of Canada.” He quickly orchestrated a rebrand and has made efforts to establish the Conservatives as a “modern, pragmatic, mainstream party.” A forward-thinking internationalist agreement like CANZUK shares many similar themes.

With the current hung parliament and the Liberal government widely acknowledged to have bungled the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for Canada, an election could take place this year. O’Toole’s embrace of CANZUK might provide the Conservative Party of Canada with a foreign policy plank that resonates with Canadians looking for sources of economic growth and for avenues to advance democratic values in a world in which that has become more urgent to do.

One of the cornerstones of CANZUK is freedom of movement, and this policy could give conservative parties a meaningful youth issue. CANZUK proposes allowing professionals, students and recent graduates to travel for work, education or leisure without the difficulties or bureaucratic hurdles associated with applying for visas.

This provides the CANZUK nations with an opportunity to establish an academic exchange similar to Europe’s Erasmus programme, which is popular among students in the EU. Academic exchanges have proven economic benefits. Increasing cross-fertilisation opportunities could enrich the skills and global experience of CANZUK students and help them to form international relationships that can generate trade and investment for Canada.

It is not only students who could benefit from enhanced education opportunities through CANZUK. The freedom of movement associated with the agreement would reduce the bureaucratic red tape that faculty and researchers currently grapple with when they wish to research at another institution or in another country.

This provides an opportunity for member countries’ leading research institutions to widen their net and more easily tap into the knowledge of the other nations leading academics and researchers. If 2020 has taught us anything, its that reducing barriers to research and knowledge sharing is essential in today’s world.

CANZUK could also give its member countries an avenue to help move the world forward. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK are in many respects model countries: peaceful, prosperous, and multi-ethnic pluralist democracies. With countries around the globe stepping back from liberty and rights, the world needs leadership from countries committed to democratic values and freedom more broadly. This agreement could help facilitate much-needed cooperation between four of the world’s democratic leaders.

CANZUK’s member countries are already members of Five Eyes, which includes the United States, and cooperate to share intelligence. CANZUK would create additional mechanisms to help these four nations enhance and coordinate their own defence and foreign affairs capabilities.

With the UK being the only member nation to have a permanent UN Security Council seat, CANZUK could provide a forum for the nations to unite on foreign policy initiatives, with the UK voicing them on their behalf at the council. The agreement would also create an opportunity for increased military collaboration, training and equipment supply which could benefit the smaller militaries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Specifically for Canada, CANZUK could make us a more valuable strategic partner to the US by providing a deeper bridge to the other three allied countries, while simultaneously creating anchor points to help us to preserve our ability to act independently of the US when that is necessary for our national interest. The CANZUK alignment would fit well with the UK’s desired entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Canada should promote.

The prospect of an early federal election in Canada makes this an opportune time to develop the CANZUK idea further. Canadian Conservatives Abroad intends to play its part in doing so.

CCA will be hosting a policy discussion about CANZUK on 20 March during the Conservative Party of Canada’s convention. The event will feature UK MP Andrew Rosindell and Canadian MP Ed Fast. For more information about CCA please visit conservativesabroad.ca

Matthew Elliott: Please apply to invest in Britain’s future and win £10,000

19 Oct

Matthew Elliott was Editor-at-Large of BrexitCentral

Coming from the world of think-tanks and campaign groups, I have a strong interest in the policy ecosystem that surrounds political parties.

Ahead of Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, think-tanks such as Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research were established. And in the 2000s,a plethora of think-tanks (Centre for Social Justice/Policy Exchange), campaign groups (Business for Sterling/Countryside Alliance) and websites (ConservativeHome/Guido Fawkes) were launched and play an influential role in political discourse.

As well as playing a role in two successful referendum campaigns (NOtoAV and Vote Leave), I helped set up the TaxPayers’ Alliance (2004), Big Brother Watch (2009), Million Jobs (2012), Business for Britain (2013) and BrexitCentral (2016), so policy entrepreneurship is one of my passions. And even though my focus is now more in the private sector, I still enjoy helping and mentoring new policy entrepreneurs who are setting up the next generation of campaign groups and think-tanks.

At the beginning of my career, I was helped by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Stuart Wheeler, who sadly passed away at the end of July. I was 25 when we launched the TaxPayers’Alliance. I didn’t know any potential financial supporters, so I wrote to the signatories of a Business for Sterling advertisement with my ‘Strategy Plan’.

I thought, if they like BfS, there’s a good chance they’ll like the TPA. Stuart was one of the people who very generously sent a contribution which, along with some other donations, gave us the resources to cover my salary for three months, giving me the confidence to leave my position as a researcher to the Conservative MEP (now Lord) Timothy Kirkhope, and go full-time with the TPA.

Seventeen years later, I now find myself in a different position. My most recent project – the news website BrexitCentral – sent out its 1,085th and final daily email bulletin to the tens of thousands of subscribers we had accrued on February 1, the day after the UK formally left the European Union.

Alongside those essential morning emails put together by the indefatigable Jonathan Isaby and his team, we had published more than 2000 articles by over 500 authors, including the current Prime Minister and many of his Cabinet, not to mention Erin O’Toole, the man who was elected leader of the Canadian Conservative Party over the summer.

We are now in the final stages of winding up the company – a task which has been somewhat delayed by babies and Covid-19 – so, along with Georgiana Bristol, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the show on the road, we are left with the issue of what to do with the last remaining funds.

When we were discussing the matter, I thought about the support that Stuart Wheeler and other donors had given me as we launched the TPA, and we decided that it would be very fitting to use those remaining funds to support the young policy and campaigning entrepreneurs of today – people with the ideas that will tackle the policy challenges of the coming years.

We have two cheques for £10,000, and we would like to hear from people under the age of 35 with an exciting idea or contribution to policy debate. It could be:

  • A campaign group or think-tank you have set up, or are hoping to set up;
  • A book proposal that you want to take a sabbatical from your current job to research and draft;
  • A think-tank report you want to take time off from your current position to write;
  • A website or podcast you want to establish, or a short film you wish to make.

That is not an exhaustive list – we are interested in all ideas, the more innovative and entrepreneurial the better. And because Brexit was supported by people from across the political spectrum, we are open to proposals from all policy positions.

To stress, we are not looking for proposals relating to Brexit or Britain’s future relationship with the European Union – we are looking for submissions on any issue, policy or subject that you feel passionate about.

Entries should be emailed to policyentrepreneurs@brexitcentral.com by midnight on Sunday 8th November 2020 and should cover (on no more than two sides of A4) an outline of your plan an dhow you hope to execute it. All submissions will then be sifted and judged by a panel comprising Jonathan and I, plus Kate Andrews, Peter Cruddas, Helena Morrissey, Jon Moynihan and Mark Wallace. And the two winners will be announced by the end of November.

Since I became active in politics, the barriers to entry for policy entrepreneurship have been massively reduced thanks to the Internet. When I interned at the European Foundation whilst at university, it had an office in Pall Mall, it had copies of its European Journal and European Digest professionally printed, which were then posted to subscribers and the opinion formers in Westminster, Whitehall and Fleet Street that it was trying to influence. It sent press releases out by fax, business was conducted on the telephone or by post, and all these costs were before the general overheads and payroll costs that also needed to be covered.

Fast forward twenty years, and the cost of campaigning has fallen significantly. From setting up a website to using social media, broadcasting ideas and opinions to the world is so much cheaper. But there are still financial barriers, so I hope that this small project will help two policy entrepreneurs of the future, just as Stuart Wheeler helped me with the creation of the TaxPayers’ Alliance all those years ago.

I look forward to reading your entries and announcing the recipients later this year.

This article was originally published on ConservativeHome on Monday October 19, and we are re-publishing it during each weekday this week in order to advertise this project.

Profile: Erin O’Toole, the genial and reassuringly dull Conservative who could soon be Prime Minister of Canada

9 Sep

When the editor of ConHome, swift to discern a new trend, commissioned me to write a profile of Erin O’Toole, I confess I had no idea who he was talking about.

Brexit has prompted a renewed interest in the politics of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, previously seen as countries from which the United Kingdom had diverged.

But of those three countries, Canada has so far attracted the least coverage, and O’Toole’s election on 23rd August as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, so as Leader of the Opposition and perhaps within a few months Prime Minister, was pretty much ignored in the British press.

Even in Canada, the result did not cause wild excitement. For although the Prime Minister since 2015, Justin Trudeau. has led, since last October’s general election, a minority government, which means there is a strong possibility of new elections, perhaps next spring, which the Conservatives might win, O’Toole’s manner is unexciting.

He a calm, genial, avuncular figure, and although, at 47, he is a year younger than Trudeau, he has the decency to look and sound a generation older.

If Canadians want someone who will stand up, in a stalwart but good-humoured way, for old-fashioned good manners against liberal iconoclasm, they will turn to O’Toole.

Here is a passage from his acceptance speech, delivered in the middle of the night after he won the leadership. He refers to his wife, Rebecca, and speaks quite often in French, while apologising for his English accent:

“Je suis né à Montréal et j’ai grandi en Ontario. J’ai appris mon français dans les Forces Armées Canadiennes. Et oui, je parle comme un anglo… mais un anglo qui respecte les francophones et qui est fier du français dans notre pays. Je suis en politique pour me battre pour tous les Canadiens et nos deux langues nationales.

“Like millions of Canadians, Rebecca and I have been juggling a lot of jobs lately. With our kids at home, COVID has made us appreciate teachers more than ever before.

“My mother, who passed away when I was nine, was a teacher. And, throughout my life, I have wished she was here to give me advice.  Right now, I wish she were here to see her child succeed.  But, I know she is here tonight because I can see her in my daughter who shares her name.”

O’Toole’s father worked for General Motors for 30 years, and from 1995 to 2014 was a member of the provincial assembly in Ontario.

This was an example of public service which the son decided to follow. But first he joined the Canadian air force, in which he hoped to serve as a pilot, but instead found himself selected to be navigator on “an old, antiquated helicopter”, rising to the rank of captain.

“You learn more from your setbacks than from your successes,” he said afterwards.

He loves the armed forces, and that indispensable extension of the armed forces, the Merchant Navy. While glancing down O’Toole’s Twitter feed, I came across a message from a few days ago adorned by the Canadian flag and the Union Jack, which said in English and French:

“Let us always remember the courage and determination of our Merchant Navy. We will never forget those we have lost and the service and sacrifice of our brave women and men in uniform.”

I was brought up on such sentiments. How wonderful to find them being expressed in 2020, by the man who might be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

On leaving the air force, he read law, and was soon profitably employed as a lawyer. In 2014, Bev Oda, the first Japanese Canadian MP and Cabinet minister, resigned her seat in Durham, north-west of Toronto, after being found to have made unacceptable expenses claims.

O’Toole’s father still represented Durham at provincial level. The son won the by-election to represent Durham in Ottawa.

He was soon made Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, his predecessor having infuriated the veterans. The new minister, who had taken a close interest in the welfare of veterans and had set up a mental health charity in that field, calmed things down.

In 2917, when he was still ordinary enough to pretend not to be a career politician, O’Toole ran for the Conservative leadership. He came third, but gained respect for declining to hurl personal abuse at his rivals, and was rewarded with the foreign affairs portfolio.

Andrew Scheer, victor of that contest, failed in 2019 to overthrow Trudeau, and was forced to stand down. O’Toole stood again, struck an angrier note than he had before, obtained the endorsement of Jason Kenney, the celebrated Premier of Alberta, and won by positioning himself as a True Blue Conservative who made right-wing noises without, generally speaking, committing himself to anything so inconvenient as right-wing policies.

He has, however, for several years been a firm supporter of CANZUK, the projected alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

And he is in favour of eliminating the budget deficit, increasing child benefit, cutting and simplifying taxes, building the pipelines which are such a divisive issue in Canadian politics, and taking a hard line on China.

Conrad Black, one of the few Canadian pundits of whom readers of ConHome will almost certainly have heard, said in a recent piece for The National Post that O’Toole

“has the minor distinction of being the first holder of his position since John Bracken, who led the Progressive Conservatives in the 1945 general election, that I have never met. But I think his chances of success are quite promising, for several reasons. First, he is a confident man and has a largely self-made career… In addition to self-confidence and tactical skill, O’Toole appears to have an intuition about where the voters are… He is a bit ordinary, but so are most people (and most politicians).”

To get a better idea of O’Toole, and what might be called his dull quick-wittedness, it is worth watching his accomplished performance on Maclean’s 60-second challenge.

And here for purposes of comparison is Trudeau.

Which will the Canadians prefer? One can’t help feeling that Boris Johnson, so keen to cultivate his Australian contacts, may have missed a trick by failing to send his congratulations to O’Toole.