Trying to make an old party new
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
I had previously suspected that O’Toole would attempt to cultivate a slyly Trumpian air in order to excite his party; now I suspect that he may be reaching more towards a Biden approach for success.
On March 19, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole delivered a half hour speech at the party convention. Through it, O’Toole made clear that he wanted to pilot the party along a new path that would lead them to victory. The speech seemed aimed not at the convention attendees, but at those considering voting Conservative for the first time, while hoping to avoid the bad taste that accompanies typical conservative stereotypes.
A study by Abacus Data released the day before noted that 46 percent of respondents were considering voting Conservative. As I read through the data provided, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the firm that O’Toole consulted in preparation for the speech. As I have noted previously, O’Toole will need to reimagine the party in a way that will both maintain its loyal base and welcome new voters. The Abacus data points out that 29 percent of potential voters are from racialized groups and 57 percent are under 45 years of age; in contrast, they found anti-immigrant sentiments existed amongst 42 percent of current Conservative voters but only 29 percent of potential voters.
These types of sentiments are exactly the ideas O’Toole will have to crush to become an acceptable choice for the young and minorities voters. Though his brief promise to make the party welcoming: “Whether you’re black, white, or brown… LGBTQ or straight. Whether you worship on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, every day, or not at all” is the right type of rhetoric, he will have his work cut out for him just suppressing the longstanding air of Conservative backwardness.
At one point O’Toole would say: “I will not allow 338 candidates to defend against the lie from the Liberals that we are a party of climate change deniers.” Unfortunately for him, in a vote not 24 hours after his speech, 54 percent of the party would deny man-made climate change. Worse still it would soon be revealed that they were instructed to do so by an anti-abortion group called Campaign Life Coalition. An instruction sheet disclosed after the vote showed the group directing members to vote against numerous policies they viewed as destructive to social conservative ends. Obviously, within parties these types of movements and disagreements are common, but it is telling that the Abacus data specifically mentioned against fighting over abortion and climate change. Not only is this unattractive to most young voters but it is precisely the two for one misstep that political attack ads are made of. I can already envision Trudeau and Singh hammering O’Toole as a puppet for antiquated religious and anti-science practices. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan attempted to evade a question from Conservative MP Greg McLean by implying he was a climate change denier.
O’Toole has signalled through his media team and said openly that “The science is settled” and that he will not sideline his climate change proposals despite this setback. Thusly it must be asked, how far will O’Toole stray from his base to win an election? Will O’Toole publicly heave against the half of his party that sees “man-made global warming” as disputable? If so, is he banking on enough of them voting for him simply because they have no other choice? Does he predict that droves of new voters will give him a chance, thusly unseating Trudeau? The problem with this strategy is that any failure will guarantee job loss for O’Toole. If he does not win an election, it is highly unlikely half of his party will accept such blatant disregard from their leader; even if he does win an election, he will be tasked with balancing both the wants of social conservatives and the expectations of his new (likely moderate) electorate.
I had previously suspected that O’Toole would attempt to cultivate a slyly Trumpian air in order to excite his party; now I suspect that he may be reaching more towards a Biden approach for success. It makes sense, both men are relatively moderate conservatives who wish to govern through some level of consensus. Neither man seems interested in being in the center of a controversial firestorm, but both are still wiling to step away from the more extreme wings of their parties to appeal to the center. Both men see that the winds of progressivism are inescapable, and that stagnation will ultimately sour the party. However, bringing suburbanites away from Trump is much easier than pulling Vancouverites towards Derek Sloan.