So, we’re conservatives and we didn’t like the budget. What are we going to do about it?

“Well, what the hell else do you expect us to do with a gun to our head” remarked one ministerial staffer at Hy’s last night when I delivered the verdict of conservative ideologues to a budget which increased special project spending, established an ugly deficit, and indicated that hopes of small government would be shelved, at least for the foreseeable future.

A minority government is like a constant job interview, and the employer right now is a glutton. Pass the antacid and bring more pork; 62% of Canadians voted for those without a predisposition to sound economic sense, while the rest voted for those that know better.

If they know better, something else holds them back. “You have no idea how much I bled for this budget… this made me sick” another staffer told me. It was certainly a policy delivered in the context of a deficit pushing $1 trillion in the US, where every other government in the industrialized world is running deficits and whereas Canada is a rare exception in that we’re one of those jurisdictions that is receiving permanent tax relief. But for ideologues who moonlight as paid partisans in government, this budget policy is as much dyspeptic for their stomachs as it read dyslexic to their instincts.

A political party’s first and last job is to get elected. If you thought that the Conservative Party should have held its ground, flipped off the opposition, delivered $30 billion in tax cuts and went out in a blaze of glory then you have the benefit of layering fantasy on a wholly incongruent political landscape where the pragmatists thrive. A political party, in practice, is not much more than a marketing machine to sell ideas to an electorate looking to buy them. However, elections span a meager 36 days and unless a voter is conditioned to think conservatively, they won’t vote Conservative. If a Conservative party does form government — especially a minority government — the long term goal is the same: keep the upper hand, survive when strategically beneficial, and win elections.

Let’s be clear. A majority Conservative government would implement a conservative agenda that would satiate the conservative base. In such fortunate circumstances, government action would unreservedly reflect conservative principles because this government would act comfortably without violating objective #1 — re-election from a plurality of conservative-minded voters. The underlying ideology would fortuitously overlap with winnable conditions.

How is a sustainable conservative majority-government-electing voter base in Canada achieved? While the party is focused on doing their job to win elections and form policies that are within Canada’s (ie. its electorate’s) interests, those of us who aren’t pre-occupied by such distractions must look at change as a long-term goal rather than a short-term fix. If the Conservative party is the election-winning machine, the conservative movement must be the one to give it a meaningful mandate.

By all means, we need a strong Conservative party because it is our vehicle. Do not punish the party for doing its job. However, we must also have a strong conservative movement. It is foolish to depend on an organization to change the ideological culture of Canada when its current success is inextricably bound to it as it presently exists. The political party that wins the election will always reflect the plurality of Canadian voter intent. Whether the blue team or red team wins, success is simply a jersey switched by the same central swing voters. In every election, the ideological and purist cynic bemoans the pragmatic and victory-focused party strategist that moves to capture the centre. Leave the party to appeal to the most voters and win elections, it is the job of the conservative movement to move the centre to the right.

We can lament the budget delivered by our Conservative Party and complain that it goes against our instincts as conservatives. But yesterday, the Conservative government did its job, it presented a survivable budget in the current political climate. However, the conservative movement failed because it was unsuccessful in creating the conditions of ideological survivability for what should have been a sincerely conservative budget.

So what are we going to do about it?

UPDATE: Some are reading this as a condemnation of the conservative movement. It is rather a call to action. The Conservative party is what we make of it; our model is bottom-up, not top-down. Let’s get to work at making more Canadians conservative.

Comments

comments

  • Conservative for Now

    One could probably accept the budget if there was any vision behind it. The only destination presented was DEBT. First leader to present a vision (eliminating/beating the Liberal party is not a vision) and the confidence that he can lead us there wins. Right now, my money is on Ignatieff. I keep waiting for one from Harper, but all I get are short-term tactics.

  • ken

    Q: what is Stephen Taylor's thesis?
    A: The Conservative party is just a vehicle. The movement is what drives it. Stephen Taylor is encouraging conservatives to invest their time and effort into the movement (like Blogging Tories and the Fraser Institute, for example) to provide a sound ideological foundation for real conservative change. Our vehicle needs gas.

    Uhh, teach – I think that many in the class are telling you that the vehicle may now have the wrong driver.

    The secret to remaining the driver is to drive down the middle. With these last two budgets, he's lurched from one shoulder to the other. Ignatieff was so pleased with this budget that the only change he could think of was the decidedly conservative amendment of adding regular reviews to it.

    Gas helps, if it's quality and not full of impurities or unstable elements that foul the engine. To regain the middle, the Conservative party may also have to remove some cruft from the tires that keep causing it to lurch hard right.

    Have we exhausted this metaphor yet?

  • http://wakinguponplanetx.blogspot.com Candace

    “that lead people to believe that the Conservative Party has a “secret agenda””

    No, I think the Coalition of the Weasels put that to bed. And there IS no secret agenda. Respect of provincial/federal jurisdiction. Put into action what Trudeau said “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nations” or to paraphrase, the families (ie no nationalized daycare). Lower taxes, etc.

    “McCain suspended his election campaign to work on the solution.” McCain “suspended” his campaign because he was losing. And I believe that was about a week before we voted?

    ” he clearly should be held accountable for either lying about it during the campaign or not understanding the consequences of what was happening in our economy”

    Well then, let's fire every world leader that was in power at the time, or running for election, because NOBODY HAD A CLUE. You really think Dion would have been the better bet?

  • James Hawley

    I'm not sure what the addendum is for Stephen. I clearly interpreted this as a call for action. Perhaps some people didn't make it past the 4th paragraph? This Budget has been a tough pill to swallow and the events surrounding it clearly instructs us to the fact that there is a lot of work to be done. All the best.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Thanks!

  • Michael

    Moderation; neither straying to far to the right or the left, is a movement all its own my friend; and more importantly, it's the scope in which the majority of Canadians base their values.

    “For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one's strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases or preserves it. So it is the same with temperance, courage and the other virtues… This much then, is clear: in all our conduct it is the mean that is to be commended.” ~ Aristotle

    There's a reason Harper cannot win a majority.

  • Michael

    No, I believe polls showed that Canadians were neither onside with the update nor in support of the coalition.

  • Gabby in QC

    Stephen, re: conservatism. Is there some kind of primer on what actually constitutes Canadian conservatism?

    I did a cursory search on google on conservative principles, and found an interesting piece by Russell Kirk (American). It’s a bit dated (it was a lecture delivered in the mid 80s), and found some interesting points there.

    Here are Kirk’s ten conservative principles (adapted from the link provided)
    http://www.heritage.org/research/politicalphilosophy/hl86.cfm
    (Archived document, may contain errors)

    TEN CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES
    by Russell Kirk

    «It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims.
    … the diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology. What particular principles conservatives emphasize during any given time will vary with the circumstances and necessities of that era.

    1. First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

    2. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire. It is through convention … that we contrive to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties: law at base is a body of conventions. Continuity is the means of linking generation to generation; it matters as much for society as it does for the individual; without it, life is meaningless.

    3. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription … that is, of things established by immemorial usage … There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity–including rights to property, often. Similarly, our morals are prescriptive in great part. Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgement and private rationality.

    4. Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. … Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. … The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

    5. Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. … The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at leveling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.

    6. Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectibility. … Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. … All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerable ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order.

    7. Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. … For the institution of several property–that is, private property–has been a powerful instrument for teaching men and women responsibility, for providing motives to integrity, for supporting general culture, for raising mankind above the level of mere drudgery, for affording leisure to think and freedom to act. … The conservative acknowledges that the possession of property fixes certain duties upon the possessor; he accepts those moral and legal obligations cheerfully.

    8. Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. … Whatever is beneficent and prudent in modern democracy is made possible through co-operative volition.

    9. Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. … Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web-of restraints upon will and appetite–these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.

    10. Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement … When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that give us stability and continuity … The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reforms and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate. … »

    The reason I’m asking about a Canadian “primer” is because in the discussion pro & con the budget, it seems there are very divergent views on what being a conservative really means, and what strategies conservatives can use to increase our effectiveness. Other than the Daifallah-Kheiriddin book “Rescuing Canada’s Right” (which I must confess I’ve not yet read – sorry, Adam!) are there other books outlining Canadian conservatism’s philosophical tenets?

    If Elizabeth May can write a book entitled “Global Warming for Dummies” maybe a young conservative can write a “Canadian Conservatism … for all”

    Perhaps the fiscal conservatives who are outraged by this budget do not believe in the philosophical foundations of conservatism. Or maybe they’re not really as conservative as they proclaim themselves to be … just wondering.

  • Andrew Swidzinski

    Funny Stephen,

    Is this really a call for action, or is it just an effort to absolve the Conservative Party from any responsibility, moral or otherwise, to actually stand up for conservative values. What your saying is that it isn’t Harper’s fault. He’s just a politician doing what politicians do. He should just keep on doing whatever it takes to stay in power, while continuing to enjoy the benefit of our money and our support. It should be up to us, not the party, to move public opinion towards conservatism, while hoping that the CPC will eventually follow the opinion polls in the right direction. That sounds to me like a total cop out. Whatever happened to the idea, which Reagan, Thatcher, Gingrich and Harris had, which was that conservative parties should exist to sell conservative ideas to the electorate (they tended to win more and bigger victories than the CPC by the way). The Harper CPC seems to exist to erratically copy whatever the electorate and its main opponents want at any given time with little concern for the future, ideology or the best interests of the country. It’s kind of like a company that tries to deal with the problems caused by an awful sales team by changing all of its products. In real life, that kind of company would go bankrupt very quickly, and if all other businesses followed its lead, we’d still be enjoying the benefits of an improved horse and buggy.

    Which is why I won’t be giving them any money again for a very long time, and will likely do only the bare minimum for my local candidate (i.e. sign nomination papers, attend campaign launch and put up a couple of signs) come the next election.

  • canadianredensign

    Sure we lack gasoline and more would always help, but pouring gas into a broken vehicle won't make it move.

  • Meany

    Stephen, if I read your post correctly, I think your entire thesis is basically Canada is not a very Conservative country. Until we are, we should not be able to expect Conservative policy from our Conservative party.
    Fair enough. But my question to you is why bother supporting the party if it's not any more Conservative than the Liberals? What difference does it make if the Liberals or the Tories are in power if you end up with the same policy? There are a lot of angry people here. I doubt any of them are going to turn in their beliefs and become Liberals. I doubt any of them are going to start supporting the Liberals, or stop trying to convince their fellow citizens the virtues of what they believe; stop trying to work towards the day where Canada is a more conservative country. But many of them may stop voting Conservative, because the Conservative party doesn't really represent them, does it? I don't see why we need fake Conservatives in power to try to convince more of this country to think like us. It doesn't help.

  • Faramir

    LOL – so Stephen, those that believe in something are now idealogues? LOL. Pragmatism. It is not just the amount. Answer me this. If Harper had to spend so much money why no broad based tax cuts? Why no money for the military? Why fund culture, and money for crap like Canadian programming, and the money pit of social housing?

    In any case whose to say the Liberals would have voted against a balanced budget? And if they did – then the Canadian public would have pummelled them come election time. And no, a majority means squat. What did Mulroney do with his majority. He didn’t cut one damn penny from the budget. Dalton Camp is proof that by abandoning principle Conservative Parties are rejected.

    And blaming the conservative movement for Harper’s failures is laughable at best – if not downright offensive. We, that is us conservatives gave Harper power and we expect him to act like on of us. When the Liberals return then is the time for us to advocate. But for now we expect Harper to act like, I dunno, like a conservative.

    Is this really what the Harper sock puppets in Parliament think about us? I know they hate us Reformers – especially Red Tory assholes Harper has advising him.

  • A discruntled CPC Member

    Stephen you should never have to sell the party to its base. It is the Parties job to represent its members, that is why we wrote policy resolutions and support the party. When the party doesn’t support the base why should the base support it.

  • John S

    Sure Stephen, we can keep pouring tons of gas into a crap vehicle that doesn’t. Or we can fix that vehicle (leadership race), or buy a new one (right-wing anchor party). Is the CPC the only vehicle that we can ever possibly use to get us to where we want to go?

  • Omanator

    You are so right. Unfortunately Canadian on the whole are not intellegent enough to see the pitfalls of
    Liberalism. I don't know what has to happen for Canadians to vote for a full conservative Government.
    All those who hailed Obama as the savior of the world can now see, from where the wind is blowing.
    I don't like this excessive spending and seriously believe that it is not needed to this extend. But we are
    being pushed into it by the fearmongering left.
    God only knows where we go from here.

  • Faramir

    Yeah – because that is just sooooo inspiring….

  • Faramir

    Applause. It is also interesting to see how the other side thinks. Harper has undone himself. Deficits are not tied to the Conservative brand. One wonders if his supporters are even aware of his Section 13 betrayal.

  • Faramir

    Really? Because Flaherty looked pretty happy when he annuced 64 billions in money pits

  • Gabby in QC

    What policies have the Conservatives brought in that would have been implemented by the Liberals as well?
    • Accountability act? Maybe now that Obama has brought one in too, limiting lobbyists, the Liberals would too.
    • Lower GST? No, the Liberals have stated time and again it was a mistake to lower it.
    • Child benefit? Umm, no. Canadian parents would waste that money on beer and popcorn, remember?
    • Tax Free Savings Account? Don’t think so. Liberals think only they know how to manage our money.
    • Reduction of corporate and personal income taxes? What? And not be able to boast about a surplus?

    Those are only a few of the measures brought in during the three years the Conservatives have been in government. If you want to see a much longer list of this government’s record, go here:
    http://crux-of-the-matter.com/2009/01/23/first-harper-govt-accomplishments/

    True, under different conditions, at a different time, the Conservatives would not have brought in this kind of budget. But don’t politicians have to deal with the realities at hand, just like the rest of the population? We live in the here and now, not in a “woulda coulda” world.

  • Faramir

    Gerry, the Harper sock puppets will hang onto Stevie to the bitter end – like they did with Mulroney, Kim and Charest.

  • Gabby in QC

    Have you been jailing my comments again?

    Please … release me … let me go ,,,

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    “It has made the party look weak AND unprincipled, confused AND desperate”

    and what sort of political calculation was made there? The only motive there was survival in my opinion and that is unfortunate. I wish Canada was more conservative so that if the Liberal-NDP-Bloc said no to a sincerely conservative budget than the obvious political calculation would have been “fine then, let's rumble” and go to the polls.

    I hope for a country where one day the chattering class looks at a budget such as this and says “this is too much spending” rather than “this is moderate enough”.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Don't get too excited at me for calling the Liberals an “election machine”. I mean this so far as to describe what they are, not what condition they are in.

    The machine is rusty and seized up under Dion. Now, I wonder if Iggy's got enough oil to make it run again.

    The Conservative Party has a fine-tuned machine in their fundraising and voter ID capacity. However, this only makes it good at winning. We, as the movement and as ideologues, need to set the ground so that the machine wins meaningful victories.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    The PM can and should carry the banner of conservatism. We cannot only depend upon him and the party to drive change and change the country. To be sure, they are quite a visible and powerful marketing machine, but it is the role of the movement to back them up so that their marketing campaign is salable to Canadians.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    We must never allow the Conservative party to lose its ability to be influenced by the grassroots.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Ted, your party is saying that the PM “listened” to them on the budget.

    You need to update your talking points.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Gerry we need to put the horse before the cart and put them on the right path. I believe that your approach isn't working because you would have us tip over the cart.

  • http://www.mileslunn.blogspot.com Miles Lunn

    Interesting post, although I think a lot of the Conservative base may be need to brush up on their Canadian history and realize Canada has NEVER elected a Conservative government in the definition that most describe as conservatism. Harper is still more right wing than Diefenbaker, Stanfield, Clark, Mulroney, Campbell, Charest, and MacKay. True he is not as right wing as the Reform party and Alliance since coming to power, but considering they only got around 20% of the popular vote, never won more than 2 seats in Ontario and never won any seats in Quebec or Atlantic Canada, it probably is a good sign that this type of ideology doesn't sell in Canada. Canadian conservatism is very different from the American brand of conservatism which is what most seem to advocate the Conservative Party should be. Canadian conservatism is about putting the interest of the community ahead of the individual and protecting and preserving government institutions. It is essentially Burkean Conservatism and also what is referred to as Red Toryism. American conservatism is a cross between classical liberalism and social conservatism. Now it is true that outside of Atlantic Canada, that style of conservatism has largely disappeared, but my point is Harper was never a conservative in the Canadian context to begin with neither was Manning or Harris. Manning and Harris were both American style Conservatives not Canadian style.

    As for why ideological conservatism won't sell in Canada, there are a number of reasons. As a country with two languages, many cultures and diverse regions, this has led to Canadians wanting parties that seek compromise and consensus, not ones that are ideological which is why both the ideological right and ideological left are quite weak in Canada compared to other countries. Never mind, exactly how would an ideological conservative win a majority. Atlantic Canada and Quebec have 1/3 of the seats in Canada and asides from Rural Southern New Brunswick and the Appalaches-Chaudiere region, such a party would get wiped out in the rest of this region. I suspect Mike Harris would have been clobbered in both Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Finally Ontario and the West may have areas that are quite conservative, but certainly not all areas and definitely not enough to compensate for a near shut out in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

    As for those using other examples, I should point out that asides from perhaps Berlusconi, Harper is still probably one of the most conservative leaders in the Western world. Lets remember Australia and United States both dumped their conservatives ones while in Britain, Germany, France, Benelux Countries, and Scandinavia, their conservative leaders are all pretty moderate and close to the middle. Harper is to the right of David Cameron, Sarkozy, and Merkel, so I would argue ideological conservatism is out of style globally not just in Canada.

    As for past ones, I explain why they got elected and why it wouldn't work in Canada.
    Ronald Reagan – the United States has always been more conservative than Canada. Their country has been based on the idea of smaller government whereas we have not. The idea of universal health care is still opposed by half the population, while Canada the debate is over what role the private sector should play not over whether we should have universal health care or not. Likewise over half of the population supports the right to carry a concealed weapon and a sizeable chunk thinks one should be able to own a para-military assault style weapon while both views are very much the minority in Canada. Canadians may oppose the gun registry, but that doesn't mean they support the right to keep and bear arms. Americans have long had a strong fear of government, whereas Canada hasn't. Besides the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our health care, peacekeeping, multiculturalism, and bilingualism are all concepts Canadians say makes them proud to be Canadian and all centre-left concepts.
    Margaret Thatcher – She replaced the Labour Party who back then were more like the NDP than Liberals. Government was nationalizing everything including even steel and the trucking industry, the unions were out of control, taxes were ridiculously high and government was a lot bigger. If Jack Layton were prime-minister for three terms, then maybe Canadians would be supportive of such a PM, but not now. Had Britain not swung so far to the left in the first place, should would have never been elected. Essentially, her conservative policies cancelled out Labour's more socialist ones thus bringing Britain back to the centre.
    Mike Harris – He was the antithesis of Bob Rae so that is why he won while in 1999 the economy was doing well largely due to the strong economy in the United States so he was able to take credit for that. He is not as popular as some conservatives believe he is. I suspect if he ran today in Ontario, he would lose. And even if he could win, I doubt he would be popular enough in Ontario and Western Canada, to overcome a wipeout in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

    That being said as an ex-Progressive Conservative and current Blue Liberal, I might actually some day return to the Conservatives once they get rid of all the ideological ones who I cannot stand and feel would do more harm than good for our country. I could never vote for Harper, but I might be able to support the next leader, if he is a moderate one such as MacKay, Prentice, or Lord.

  • John

    What movement? I never mentioned anything about the Liberals. I simply mentioned that the body which is supposed to represent grassroots members gave its power over to the Leader and as a result decisions in regards to the party are controlled by the PMO. I never heard any blogging tories take on national council for this decision.

  • http://www.gerrynicholls.com Gerry Nicholls

    Sorry but the cart' is already tipped over, it's wheels are broken and it's stuck in the mud.

  • Faramir

    As for red Tories like your self good riddance. You are in the right party. True fiscal cns like us can't stand you either.

  • Joe Smalls

    At least Mulroney got us the Free Trade Agreement. Harper just spent more money than Trudea.

  • JDot

    Good post Miles..

    It is the long game with PM Harper, one day you will be back in the fold..

  • ken

    Miles Lunn has absolutely nailed it.

    Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it, so I really don't understand why anyone would think that the CPoC should model itself after the Reaganesque/Bushy US right, especially after just witnessing how this brand of conservatism has failed SO spectacularly in the US.

    (slight derail – the corpse is still twitching, and holding up the stimulus bill in the US. This is required viewing: Rachel Maddox, MSNBC )

    Like Mr Lunn, I once was more sympathetic to the conservative view, till the Re-FOOOOOOOOORM party chased the Progressive out of the PCs.

    There IS a place for conservatism in Canada, but as long as the PCoC base think we should turn Canada into Texas or Utah, it will miss the mark.

  • ken

    Miles Lunn has absolutely nailed it.

    Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it, so I really don't understand why anyone would think that the CPoC should model itself after the Reaganesque/Bushy US right, especially after just witnessing how this brand of conservatism has failed SO spectacularly in the US.

    (slight derail – the corpse is still twitching, and holding up the stimulus bill in the US. This is required viewing: Rachel Maddox, MSNBC )

    Like Mr Lunn, I once was more sympathetic to the conservative view, till the Re-FOOOOOOOOORM party chased the Progressive out of the PCs.

    There IS a place for conservatism in Canada, but as long as the PCoC base think we should turn Canada into Texas or Utah, it will miss the mark.

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