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Lose the anger, Conservatives, and recall your inclusive heritage

Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications to Stephen Harper, is a communications consultant based in London.

Reputations are built over time and lost in an instant. It's a vaudeville saying that's grown more relevant in our digital age. It also applies to parties and movements. These are the stakes now facing the Conservative Party of Canada as it searches for its new leader. Build, or be lost.

Which makes the squalid tussle over Liberal MP Iqra Khalid's Motion 103 on Islamophobia even more depressing. Have Conservatives learned nothing from the last election? On cultural issues there is no benefit given to Conservative doubt. It might not be fair, but it's a fact of life. Conservatives are supposed to be in favour of facts.

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Campbell Clark: Conservative MPs are afraid of Motion 103, and things it can't do

Here's another fact: If Conservatives want to win the next federal election they will do it by presenting a friendlier face to a wider section of the electorate. This isn't an argument to drop conservatism, it's a plea to sell conservatism – actual conservatism, not its populist incantation – as a happy warrior, not as an angry misanthrope.

It's the difference between snitch lines and recognizing immigrant communities as hard-working, family-oriented and fiscally conservative, and speaking to them through that lens, as Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney did for most of the life of the modern Conservative Party of Canada.

Unfortunately, these facts don't apply as firmly to the unspooling Conservative leadership election, with its older, whiter voting pool, which is why too many of the dozen-plus candidates are willing to tolerate the less-tolerant now currently leading the debate.

But just because those with fringe views need to make a living doesn't mean the Conservative leadership candidates should foot the bill. The movement is stronger with pressure from its right flank, but it also needs to apply some pressure the other way. When the fringe presents a false frame to a debate, as they did with Ms. Khalid's meaningless motion, it's up to the responsible voices to shout "no," not throw the attack dog a treat.

When places of worship are shot up, as happened recently in Quebec City, the only response is expressing unqualified solidarity with the impacted community. Now is the time to give Muslims a giant hug, not shove them away. And if the Liberals play politics with it, recognize it as such and avoid taking the bait.

Spare the hysterics; Muslims aren't coming to take over the country. Most are fleeing horrific scenes. There is no critical mass, and, if Canada applies its immigration standards and extends its traditional warm welcome, there never will be. This can be done while remaining vigilant for things that are antithetical to Canada, including radical Islamists.

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That vigilance includes an alarm bell, but it only works if it's not ringing all of the time over things that aren't really issues (e.g. M-103). The one person you don't want to be when the threat finally arrives is the boy who cried wolf. Or the party that cried wolf, whether that's on Muslims or the other dirty m-word these days: the media.

It's time for Conservatives to shrug off their anger and reaffirm their proud, inclusive conservative heritage.

Canadian conservatives, whether under their Progressive Conservative, Reform, Alliance, or modern Conservative Party of Canada guises, have notched up an impressive list of historical firsts: the first Japanese, Chinese, Muslim, Indo woman MPs, for a start. But what matters now is the present, and the party is presently failing its own standards.

This begins in the leadership race, where it's 12 white faces, one red Tory (Michael Chong) and no-hope Deepak Obhrai.

It might be too late to diversify the leadership field, but Conservatives should still broaden the message. There's little time to waste before a good reputation is lost.

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