Conservative Family Policy: Lessons from the North

Senator Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act, which consolidates and simplifies numerous tax credits and household benefits (like the Child Tax Credit and the child-based provisions in the Earned Income Tax Credit), has put off a revived intra-conservative debate regarding the interpretation of conservative thoughts and principles into a working-class policy plan.

It’s still too early to estimate how this debate will finally be resolved. Although Romney’s proposal was lauded in some wonky and social conservative circles, its conservative critics have created many discussions about job disincentives, financial costs, and so forth.

A big portion of the debate is all about competing policy viewpoints. But one has the feeling that the argument additionally reflects divergent viewpoints regarding the political future of American conservatism: Is it about ongoing a Trumpian route of identity and grievance politics, doubling down on the conventional Republican plan agenda of tax cuts, trade, and globalization, or calculating a new, policy-oriented working course?

I’d submit that, as conservatives debate this query, they might have the ability to draw lessons from recent conservative experience in Canada. A British government, headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper by 2006 to 2015, successfully falsified a conservative policy plan rooted in the concerns, interests, and inspirations of working-class voters. Its track record shows that such a strategy can finally create positive coverage and political outcomes.

Specifically, the Harper government’s development of a Universal Child Care Benefit to recognize the social value of parenting and also head off a federal child-care system proposed by its own innovative opponents may provide salutary lessons for Western conservatives in the context of the present child benefits argument.

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

They argued at the time the Republican Party and also the wider conservative movement needed to correct their policy schedule to better represent the concerns, interests, and aspirations of non-college-educated voters if they were to compete in a political context that has been realigning along educational lines.

“If you make conservatism relevant to normal working people, you ensure it is the most powerful political philosophy in Western democratic society” He lacked the purposeful policy ideas that Douthat and Salam placed forward, but he automatically discerned what they’d seen roughly eight years earlier. His working populist message enabled a exceptional route to victory over the presidential leader and finally in the general election.

There are many elements that led to the Republican Party to ignore Douthat and Salam’s admonitions, but there’s a legitimate argument that, though it was well-researched and rigorous, their strategy only involved a level of danger and doubt that Republican lawmakers were unwilling to continue. They were in effect calling on elected Republicans to change away from a group of policies and issues for which they’d developed muscular memory over almost three years. Politicians are, if anything, leery of their untested, unfamiliar, and unfamiliar.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether the case for a new, working-class conservatism would have been bolstered by pointing to the policy and political accomplishments of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government during this period. Harper’s governance schedule, which he described as”adapting modern issues to some other conservatism,” was basically a real-time validation of Douthat and Salam’s thesis.

It wasn’t only an intellectual exercise either. The Canadian experience revealed a conservatism oriented to working-class concerns, interests, and ambitions can be highly successful as a political proposition.

Harper’s political fantasy was all about bringing conservative thoughts to keep on behalf of working citizens. As he explained in an 2006 interview:”In case you make conservatism relevant to normal working people, then you ensure it is the most powerful political philosophy in Western society. Where Conservative parties are more successful, and successful on a sustained basis, that’s what they do”

His governance record reflects this important insight. Conservatives should have a limited yet optimistic vision for authorities that addresses bigger questions such as the function of the family from our society, the socio-cultural origins of poverty and purposefulness, and the social costs of crime and dependence. 

As he outlined in a 2003 address prior to becoming prime minister:

There are real limits to tax-cutting if conservatives can’t dispute anything about how or why a government actually does what it will. If conservatives accept all legislated social liberalism with balanced budgets and company licenses –just as do some in the company community–there really are no differences between a traditional and a Paul Martin [that the centrist Liberal prime minister at the time]. 

There is, naturally, much more to be carried out in fiscal policy…. In substantial measure, but the public debates for doing so have already been won. Conservatives have to be greater than modern liberals in a hurry. 

Thus, Harper sought to reorient Canadian conservative coverage thinking from the macroeconomic priorities of former decades (for example, uncompetitive marginal tax prices, bloated government spending, along with over-regulation) to a new pair of microeconomic and social issues that were conspicuous with high-income voters.

This intellectual change proved to be good politics. The Conservative Party basically halved its”gender gap” between male and female voters and continued this demanding ratio throughout most of its own bureaucracy. It also made considerable gains with non-college-educated, working men that held up throughout its time in office. The net effect was to win three straight national elections such as the first Conservative majority success in almost a quarter century in 2011.

The most powerful instance of this paradigmatic shift is that the Harper government’s Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). 

The country went from a post-WWII worldwide family allowance to some means-tested, income support program for households with kids in the 1980s due largely to budgetary things.

The Conservative Party under Harper proposed restoring an international child benefit in its 2006 election stage. The UCCB could supply $100 CAD ($78.35 USD) a month for every child under age six irrespective of family earnings or the way the funds would be used. The coverage case was primarily on positive externalities: an worldwide child benefit sought to comprehend the difference between the private costs and social returns of raising another generation. It was in effect a public coverage affirmation of the social worth of parenting or what has been described in the policy literature as a”parental recognition goal.”

Placing an international child benefit at the center of the party’s policy agenda proved to be a major departure in the traditional policy and political orthodoxy.

A contributing factor was the then-Liberal authorities was beginning to consciously pursue a fresh federal child-care framework whereby it would move funding to provincial authorities to establish what amounted to some publicly-funded and publicly-delivered child-care version that adheres to some frequent set of federal criteria. The thought had a lengthy pedigree among Canadian progressives dating back to some Royal Commission on the Status of Girls in the early 1970s.

However, this was more than merely a technocratic debate concerning the best way of supporting families with kids. It turned into a reflection of competing values concerning parental option, the role of the country, and the way we consider paid and unpaid work.

As I outlined in a recent article, the Conservative position has been aided by two variables. The first is that a majority of Canadian households with kids under the age of four at the time used a mixture of home-based daycare and other private agreements for their child-care requirements and consequently were by and large failed by the Liberal government’s one-size-fits-all version.

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

The net impact was to place the Conservative Party since trusting and supporting parents compared to the Liberal Party who did not appear to encourage parents to make the best choices for their own families. It’s challenging to discern how fundamental this political contrast has been to the Conservative Party from the ensuing election, but there’s no question it was a major theme especially in the wake of this”beer and popcorn” event. It’s no crash, for example, a standard Conservative message in the last days of this campaign was the party thought the”real experts on raising kids are mothers and dads”

The Conservative Party finally won the 2006 electionand the incoming government canceled its predecessor’s national child-care frame and executed that the UCCB in its first year . It produced positive results on child pornography in Canada, had minimum (even largely favorable ) job consequences for parents, and finally became one of the Harper administration’s trademark policies within its almost ten years in office.

Lessons for American recruits

As important as Canadian conservatives’ experience with child benefits isthe bigger lesson here is all about the translation of both conservative thoughts and principles into a working schedule. Harper instinctively known that conservatives have to apply their fixed principles to new and evolving issues whether they are to remain relevant and responsive to the voting public in general and working-class economists particularly.

This is not a call for governmental compromise. It’s rather a recognition that conservatism is over a restricted set of policy positions: it is a frame to find the entire world as it actually is. Its thoughts and principles are adjusted but its program to new and evolving topics is necessarily dynamic. This procedure was clarified by Yuval Levin as a practice of”implemented conservatism.”

It’s an excellent descriptor of Canadian Conservatives’ placement on child benefits in particular and Stephen Harper’s political philosophy more generally. It amounted to the interpretation of conservative principles about choice, subsidiarity, and also the importance of the family institution to the practical question of these increasing costs of raising young kids.

That is exactly the type of policy and political recalibration that Douthat and Salam pictured in their own book. Theirs wasn’t a call to abandon conservatism but instead to apply and translate into a fresh set of issues pertinent to working-class voters. The Harper government’s experience with the UCCB shows that they were on the perfect path.

The choice prior to American conservatives is so about over the particular design details of Senator Romney’s child allowance suggestion. It’s all about the Republican Party’s future orientation: Can it change its policy schedule to better meet the demands of its working-class foundation as Douthat and Salam set forward over a decade back? Or will it continue to progress a more conventional Republican policy plan that looks increasingly disconnected from its own voters?

Nevertheless, the Canadian conservative document proves it is not just an exercise in expediency. The end result could be to shift governance and policy in an employed conservative management.