Conservative Party Leaders Must Save Pro Business Image

|Feb 7|magazine12 min read

The Conservative Party of Canada’s pro-business image took a major hit this past fall when The Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, blocked a BHP Billiton hostile takeover of Potash Corp. Clement cited the Investment Canada Act when declaring the acquisition did not pass the ‘net benefit test’ to Canada.

The Conservative Party traditionally runs on a platform of lower taxes, smaller government and more decentralization of federal government powers. The Conservative Party’s actions left pundits asking how intervening in the free market aligns with the party’s conservative principles.

The Conservative Party and Clement didn’t provide a rationalization for the Federal Government’s intervention. Making matter worse, BHP Billiton made public the terms and conditions of the takeover. From an outsider’s perspective, the ‘net benefits’ looked beneficial to Saskatchewan and Canada as a whole.

Thus, many Canadians are wondering what the Conservative Party stands for and who are the politicians to return the party to its base. The Conservatives haven’t strayed far from their socially conservative principles, but the party does need to show leadership on economic issues via conservative fiscal policy. The global economy is starting to recover, but Canada’s economy is starting to slow. The chorus is going to grow louder.

Who are the Conservative politicians who must step up and show leadership?

Stephen Harper:

Harper and his Conservative Party were thrust into power when the then-ruling Liberal Party became embroiled in the sponsorship scandal, causing the dissolution of Parliament. In his time in office, Harper has cut taxes while increased spending, a departure from fiscal conservatism.

Worse, by September 10, 2009 the deficit had reached $55.9 billion dollars. It is estimated the deficit over the next 5 or more years will be double what was originally reported in the 2009 budget, adding about 170 billion dollars to the Canadian debt. Harper, if he wants his party to retain power, must make amends for the free-wheelin’ Economic Action Plan, show fiscal austerity and adhere to the Conservative Party’s founding principles.

The Red Tape Reduction Commission is a good start.

Christian Paradis:

The Honorable Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources, also has Harper’s ear as the Quebec Lieutenant to the Prime Minister.

With such a close working relationship, Paradis has the potential to be extremely influential in policy decisions. Paradis has a background in corporate law and as the Minister of Natural Resources—one of Canada’s most important Cabinets—he must use his position and experiences to loosen the regulatory climate in Ottawa.

As the global recovery gains momentum, businesses around the world are going to be looking at bountiful Canada’s natural resources to sustain growth. Many foreign companies are leery of doing business in Canada as result of the Potash dealings.

It is up to Paradis to ensure the Federal Government creates a favourable business climate for foreign investors.

Tony Clement:

It should come as no surprise that Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, makes this list of Conservative politicians who need to regain their pro-business edge. Clement was at ground zero of the Potash decision and is a major reason why foreign investors want to see an olive branch from Ottawa instead of a no vacancy sign.

As Industry Minister Clement has the lead role in developing and implementing Canada's economic strategy to become even more competitive and innovative. He does have a monumental task of growing Canada's automotive and aerospace industries, formulating a leading-edge digital economy strategy and investing in Canada's research and discovery infrastructure.

Clement needs to rediscover his inner small business owner mindset and entrepreneurial spirit. He has worked in the private sector in his career. Should Clement return to those values and foster investment, the recent economic slowdown must just be a blip on the map as opposed to a double dip recession.

As Conservatives return to their familiar pro-business stance, Clement should also leverage his special responsibility for Northern Ontario as Minister responsible for FedNor, the federal economic development agency for the region. Clement has the opportunity to tout conservative fiscal policy successes at FedNor on the national stage.