Andrew Coyne posted a good article a couple days ago, which makes several good points about how the Conservatives can gain support in places like urban Ontario.
He suggests that Conservatives need to show how they will use free market principles to better acheive desired outcomes on issues like the environment and social justice. He says that presently the impression is that "their general preference for markets over governments is [seen by many younger, urban voters as] nothing more than a refusal to act, a concession to chaos and self-interest, rather than an alternative means to the same ends."
This is a shame, in Coyne's view, because the free market can be a great tool if put to work (in the right legislative framework) on issues like environmental problems. This is not a new idea. It is exactly what the Green Party had in mind, and part of the reason why they were able to simultaneously call themselves "fiscally responsible" and "environmentally sustainable".
But some Conservatives are baffled by this notion, because, as Coyne points out, many who adhere to the free market ideology think of "free markets as, in essence, a nullity: as simply the absence of government."
Coyne has some history on this topic. Back in 2002, for example, I blogged about a column he wrote suggesting a carbon tax market mechanism as the best way to reduce the gasses that cause climate change. The plan he suggests -- I wrote about my own version last summer -- is exactly the sort of way in which the Conservative Party could seize on an issue that's important to someone like me, and argue that they have a better remedy for it than the Liberal Party (or the NDP, for that matter).
Unfortunately, I think the Conservative Party has quite some way to go before it reaches the ideal that Andrew Coyne sets for it. To me it doesn't appear to be the case that they want to apply free market principles toward acheiving goals on these sorts of issues. They more closely resemble the "refusal to act, a concession to chaos and self-interest" that Coyne mentions.
Climate change is a perfect example for this. As far as I can tell, Conservative Party policy on climate change is not that it is a problem that they have a better solution for. Rather, in Stephen Harper's words, "the science is still evolving" -- obvious code for "it's hooey, we don't care about it, and we ain't doing anything about it."