Balancing expansion with retention
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
As long as the money keeps flowing and voters don’t desert him, a little white lie may just grease the slide into the Prime Minister’s mansion.
The American election has been called in all but the most official places. Despite sitting President Trump’s refusal to concede graciously, the political machine has spoken, and Joe Biden is the new president elect. Canadians must now look over the border and revaluate the economic and policy relationships that can be built or altered with the incoming administration. Simultaneously, on this side of the 49th parallel, our Conservative Party must look within and determine how it will be changed by the pro-Trump Canadian voters and its efforts to entice new votes.
A June poll by Lèger found that roughly 10 percent of Canadians preferred Trump to Trudeau as leader of the country. Alongside that poll, conservative senator Lynn Beyak went so far as to break election law by donating $300 to the Trump campaign. The much more legal but only slightly less controversial endorsement from Don Plett included the line that he hoped “the right side would win.” It’s fair then to wonder how Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party will satisfy those voters (and representatives) while expanding their platform to appeal to more Canadians outside of the traditional fold. The “Take Canada Back” slogan that O’Toole ran under may have been a thinly veiled nod to the propulsive power of Trumpism without alarming the wider public. Nonetheless, O’Toole will have to find a way to explain who took Canada and from whom in order to woo over multinational voters in the ethnically diverse and densely packed urban areas that make or break elections. In doing so, O’Toole will have to distance himself enough from the overwhelmingly unpopular (at least to non-conservative loyalists) Trumpian image while simultaneously kicking “woke” politics and cultivating the economic populist message that made Trump popular.
A core feature of Trumpism that soon became the root of its unpopularity and polarizing ability, was its leader’s anti-illegal-immigration rhetoric. There are a number of voters who would support limiting immigration to the country and some who may even harbor some of the more controversial opinions on Muslims that I think Trump extolled, but O’Toole will likely not get far with even a less offensive statement than the “Muslim Ban.” Considering the abysmal performance of the People’s Party of Canada, who were attached to the notorious “Say ‘No’ to Mass Immigration” billboards, the current Conservative Party would be wise to distance itself from that part of Trump.
Though O’Toole has been far less offensive in his stance on immigration, he has not fully escaped the anti-gay image that plagued previous leader Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party, nor managed to avoid a run-in with conversion therapy support himself. In a speaking engagement with Canada’s National Observer, noted political commentator Bruce Livesey said that the party should take heed of previous Conservative PM Brian Mulroney’s efforts to create a big tent. As I have written previously, this big tent must somehow make room for both social conservatives (like Andrew Scheer, who once compared gay marriage to calling a dog’s tail a leg) and gay voters with their allies. Though I have no problem watching social conservatism get kicked to the curb, they are the base and most loyal voters for the Conservative Party; Trump managed to market himself as “the most pro-gay president” while installing conservative judge after judge who leaned against gay rights, but O’Toole will not likely achieve the same balancing act.
If shaking the stigma of social conservatism to pull votes isn’t hard enough, threading the rhetoric needle certainly will be. Though I think Donald Trump cultivated disdain for environmentalism, O’Toole has instead vowed to match Trudeau in this realm. With apex cynicism, I’d say that O’Toole is using the same rhetoric bluff that kept Justin Trudeau popular with his fans and Trump’s base in line. O’Toole may just be promising Canadians concerned with the environment one thing while guaranteeing the oil and gas industry the exact opposite. And why not? Trudeau has managed to stay on the right side of the ratings despite many documented failures to meet climate goals. O’Toole really could just say the words loud enough to assuage a few urban voters and never lift a finger to make good on his promise. This is politics after all. As long as the money keeps flowing and voters don’t desert him, a little white lie may just grease the slide into the Prime Minister’s mansion.
So, what is the Conservative Party to do? If nothing else, Erin O’Toole may be on the right track singing the song of pro-worker populism and environmental importance. His rhetoric just may be the pole that lifts his parties tent high and wide, if not that, the Conservative Party will have even more time to strategize and rebuild.