Devin Drover is a grassroots political activist, and the Atlantic Spokesperson for the Canada Strong and Proud network.

With the upcoming Conservative Party leadership race, political consultants and self-declared pundits are racing off to the nearest mainstream media outlet to discuss the future of the Party, and propagate on which compromises are needed to defeat Justin Trudeau. 

The narrative from these talking-heads goes something like this: to win, Conservatives must abandon their values, cede social policy to the left, and become a party which is indistinguishable from the Trudeau Liberals on anything besides a commitment to maintain slightly smaller deficits. 

The Conservatives, they preach, must be “socially progressive and fiscally conservative.” 

Some politicians, activists and young conservatives have already crumbled under media pressure and adopted this label. Older elected officials, in an attempt to stay relevant with younger voters, have also begun clinging to this description – unaware that it makes them seem like the real-life equivalent of a popular Steve Buschemi 30 Rock gag. Some other activists adopt this identity to avoid feeling embarrassed at dinner parties filled with liberal snobs and champagne socialists. And young conservatives embrace this label because they want to avoid further ostracization on university campuses, where administrators, professors and their student colleagues can be unapologetically left-wing.

However, Conservative members and politicians must ignore the advice of these pundits, reject this labeling and stay true to offering a conservative vision for the country – both socially and economically – that is distinguishable from what is offered from their left-wing opponents. This is important for three major reasons.

First, history has proven that right-wing parties win when they stay true to conservative values. The recent electoral successes of Premiers Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, who campaigned on both fiscally and socially conservative platforms, demonstrates this point. Meanwhile, the downfall of Conservatives often come when they stray from their principles – as seen with the defeat of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in 2015. History shows that if voters are faced with the choice of voting for a left-wing party or a left-leaning “Conservative” party, they will just choose the real left-wing alternative every time.

Secondly, social conservatives make up an important part of the Conservative base which is both reliable and active. They are extremely organized at the grassroots level, eager to knock on doors and open their wallets for causes they believe in. Further, as the Liberal Party under Trudeau has gone from tolerating pro-life members and other social conservatives to punishing MPs for supporting grants for Christian summer camps and soup kitchens, the Conservative Party remains the only major party open to them. Refusing to accept social conservatives in the Conservative tent would therefore be a potentially misguided, electoral disaster.

Thirdly, “social progressivism” has just become a buzzword for the left and their media friends meant to juxtapose social policies adopted by Conservatives. It does not refer to any specific bundle of policies, but is marked by consistently shifting goal-posts. Today, being “socially progressive” does not simply mean you support same-sex marraige or abortion, it means you believe biologocial sex is a social construct and that words amount to violence. When conservatives cede ground to the left on a social issue, the left does not take this compromise in good faith, but instead moves the goal posts to a further extreme to ensure they can still criticize conservative parties. 

Ultimately, Conservatives must continue to be open and accepting of social conservatives. This does not mean that they should not be considerate of which social issues they champion for the sake of party-unity or electoral viability; for example, the Party membership has repeatedly voted at policy conventions to keep abortion and same-sex marriage off their legislative agenda. But Conservatives must be open to supporting other socially conservative policies, like those targeting unregulated internet pornography, supporting public education reform, and protecting religious freedom and conscious rights for physicians. 

Instead of listening to pundits, I have better advice for Conservative leadership candidates: talk to your neighbours, family, friends, and members of your local church or community organization. They will teach you a lot more about what Canadians really want for their country.