Progressive and Conservative

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 05, 2006

Political terms like "progressive" and "conservative" are a funny business. A recent interview between arch-conservative Pat Buchanon and independent progressive Ralph Nader demonstrated that when partisanship is set aside, opportunities for agreement across the political spectrum abound. That's because most people, when you boil it down, are reasonably pragmatic. When we all agree to be honest, it's a lot harder to dig in and stubbornly refuse to yield ground.

Today, Canada has a federal governing party that pretends to be conservative but is actually secretive, statist, authoritarian, and reflects the interests of corporate power rather than the public interest. I'm not a huge fan of Stephen Harper, as regular readers might have guessed. The reason is that he claims to be a conservative (small c) but spends his energy giving tax cuts to the rich, playing politics with wedge issues, and deregulating abusive, exploitative industries instead of actually conserving.

Meanwhile, his "accountability" legislation will actually make the federal government less accountable, and his "communications" policy serves to prevent Conservative MPs and even Cabinet Ministers from speaking frankly about what they believe and what the support, despite the fact that one of his campaign promises was to allow more free votes. Any real conservative will tell you that power without oversight and accountability is a recipe for abuse, corruption, cronyism, and power-grabbing, which is exactly what we observe south of the border.

I've been called many variations on the epithet "leftist" over the years, and I continue to wonder exactly what that means. I consider myself a progressive conservative (small p, small c) with a dash of radical thrown in to spice things up and prevent brain-dead partisan capitulation.

Socially and culturally, I'm laissez-faire. I believe people have the right to find living arrangements that meet their needs. I don't think there's a single "correct" family structure, and I've been blessed to know many people over the years who have found love, mutual support, and fellowship in all kinds of families.

I've known "queer" couples who lovingly take care of each other and raise their children with strong values of respect, self-discipline, and compassion; and I've known people in nuclear families who were stultified, taken for granted, or outright abused and terrorized within rigid, tyrannical family hierarchies. Who am I to say that a loving family that meets its members' social, emotional, and financial needs is somehow "wrong" by definition? To be conservative, it doesn't follow that one has to be authoritarian or chauvinistic as well.

Economically, I'm definitely conservative, meaning I believe in an economy of conservation:

This is not radical stuff, folks. It's pragmatic civic development freed of crippling ideologies, partisan flackery, and corporate influence peddling. A representative government that worked from these premises would never produce, to take a single example, the abomination that is the GRIDS growth recommendation, which gives homebuilders and developers almost exactly what they want even as it spouts the lingo of sustainability.

Instead, we're stuck with a master policy paper that throws out its own premises, ignores its own evidence, disregards its own assessment of the public will, and entrenches today's destructive patterns for the next quarter century.

The business of government in municipal Hamilton as in federal Canada is neither progressive nor conservative. It's simply old-fashioned cronyism masquerading as politics.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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