Brendan bids goodbye

Off the Board/Opinion by

When I sat down to write my final column for the McGill Tribune, I didn’t really know the best way to wrap up my time here.

I could review criticisms of my work or what I have learned. But neither of these options seemed to be the best way to end “Right Minded.” Instead, I would like to pass along some reflections on my experience.

For many months I have been caricatured by many people who have read my columns, but don’t know me personally. The assumptions made by those who meet me after reading this column range from the innocent to the ridiculous. To them, I am the “big bad conservative,” or really just a shell for conservtive ideas. Anyone with an opinion builds their understanding of me based on their assumptions of what conservatism is.

I never really got used to this. My hometown of Waterloo, Ontario voted consistently for a Liberal MP until very recently. I grew up in a Catholic school, and Catholics have a long history of being the Liberal Party’s staunchest supporters. I used to lionize European social democracy, considering it the pinnacle of all government. I was an adamant NDP supporter: Conservatives were just enemies, pig-headed and stupid.

I moderated myself into a Liberal later in high school, and by Grade 12, I was a staunch Conservative. What brought me into the fold was the idea of freedom. After a childhood of knowing nothing about liberty, individual choice, and responsibility, I finally started seeing the other side. I volunteered for my local MP, a Conservative, and realized that the caricature of conservatism simply isn’t real.

The right wing is not evil. I disagree vehemently with the left, but they’re not evil either. The left and right have profoundly different normative beliefs about human society. As a right-winger, choice and personal responsibility form the core of government in my view. The farther one moves left, the more one accepts the role of government to participate in social engineering.

I admit these are very broad and sweeping statements. But often, the left and right talk past each other. We do so for good reasons: we are both coming from different memes. Every day, I try to honestly engage with my political opponents. No one is perfect, and I can talk past others just as much as anyone. We all need to make an honest effort to appreciate the core values of those we disagree with, so we can get to the basics of our disagreement. Otherwise, political discussion will be poisonous, at McGill and elsewhere.

Conservatism is one of the Western world’s most successful political philosophies. Its advocates form governments in dozens of countries across the planet, including in Canada. Many Canadians vote for a conservative political party, and consistently poll their support for many conservative institutions (NAFTA and free trade being one example). Don’t be self-righteous in your criticisms of conservatism. It should be treated with respect.

All in all, it has been an honour and privilege to appear in these pages. The students of this school continue to prove why it is the best in Canada. As I continue work on the newly minted Prince Arthur Herald, I look forward to continuing these conversations in a different forum. Thanks for everything, Tribune readers. I look forward to even greater debates ahead.