Left-wing or right-wing?
20 July 2009
As a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, I am often described as a right-wing politician. According to conventional ideological divisions, this is what distinguishes conservative politicians from those of the Liberal Party, who are supposed to be in the centre. And from NDP or Bloc members, who are seen as left-wingers.
I have never really liked those distinctions, because I don’t believe they really tell us anything useful.
Left-wingers are seen as supporting progress and equality. But it is well known that under communist regimes for example, members of the party had all kinds of privileges that were refused to ordinary people.
Socialist governments around the world have often adopted reactionary laws against freedom of enterprise that blocked economic progress. Can someone tell me, what is so progressive about forbidding people to make and exchange things to fulfil their needs?!
Right-wingers on the other hand are supposed to favour tradition and freedom. But some moral conservatives try to impose their values by using the coercive power of the state, which is an attack on people’s freedom.
And what about the policies of George W. Bush, whose administration was seen by everyone as right-wing? He practically nationalised the American financial sector, invaded a country without any justifiable reason, and increased the size of the government more than all his predecessors. That has nothing to do with freedom or tradition.
In reality, when we look at history, the values of the left have often been defended by right-wing governments, and the values of the right by left-wing governments.
I prefer to use a more precise rule to define my position: when we are faced with a problem, should the government intervene or should we leave individuals to find a solution by working together? In general, should the government intervene more or less?
My answer is that in general, the government should intervene less. And every time it’s possible, we should defer to the free market and to individual initiative instead of imposing new rules.
This was the guiding principle for the reform of the telecommunications sector that I instituted as minister of Industry. We directed the CRTC to regulate the telecom sector only when it could prove that it was absolutely necessary to fulfil one of the objectives of the law. Otherwise, it should rely on market rules.
Before that reform, the procedure had been the opposite: new regulations were imposed as a matter of course, unless it could be shown for certain that they were not needed.
I have respect and admiration for politicians considered to be right-wing, like Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. They managed to reduce government interventions in some areas.
But I also respect and admire politicians considered to be left-wing who did the same. For example, Bill Clinton significantly reformed welfare programs, cut down spending and eliminated the budget deficit of the American government. Even French socialists like François Mitterrand liberalised radio and television, which had been monopolies of the state; and Lionel Jospin privatised Air France, France Telecom and other important sectors of the French economy.
The categories of left-wing and right-wing only create confusion. Many people do not really understand what they mean, with good reason. There is no confusion when you say that you either favour or not less government intervention and more individual freedom and responsibility.
I will have other occasions to discuss these principles in more detail.
Goodbye for now.