Conservatives are looking at the trees when they should be designing a vision for the forest

    Mar 24, 2021

    CALGARY—After losing the last two elections, including one to the blackface guy, the Conservative Party is officially looking for that glow up. Whether or not this is a FaceApp transformation or one that requires reconstructive surgery remains to be seen.

    (Hope y’all didn’t think I forgot about blackface, ’cause unlike the rest of the pundit class in this country, I never will.)

    Last week, the Conservative Party of Canada hosted a policy convention, their first since the election of newly minted leader Erin O’Toole. To be fair, it went better than Andrew Scheer’s first, probably because there was no one else in the room. In comparison to that 2018 policy convention, the party managed to not directly insult people of colour with offensive resolutions to end birthright citizenship and dropped the spurious “cancel culture debate,” which is a euphemism for people without power demanding accountability from people with power. In fact, O’Toole looked the most disciplined in the delivery of his keynote speech than we’ve ever seen him. But let’s keep it 100, it’s a low bar.

    O’Toole wasn’t just delivering his call to action to modernize the party to the membership, he was speaking to all potential Conservative voters, hoping to catch the glint of the so-called disaffected Liberal voter. This may have been possible in 2019 with the speech he gave on March 19, however the world and this country has been changed irreparably since the pandemic and it’s not clear whether or not O’Toole has realized that. Much of his “Canada’s Recovery Plan” hinges on the same themes offered by Scheer’s leadership. In this throwback recorded by the Toronto Star, Scheer “emphasized outreach to Quebec, dredged up several recent Liberal ethical violations, and reiterated opposition to the government’s carbon pricing scheme.” Swap Quebec for vaccine management and we basically have the remix of the same Conservative talking points. This pivot is looking more deep fake than reconstructive surgery already.

    As usual, the Conservatives are looking at the trees when they should be designing a vision for the forest. Here are some of the salient pieces that they could have added to their policy platform:

    Climate change

    O’Toole said on Friday: “There’s been a lot of speculation about what I’m going to say about climate change in this speech. To those who were expecting a dramatic moment: I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.” This just writes itself, doesn’t it? No one should expect anything substantive on this file from this party. We’ve been waiting for six years for a Conservative plan to combat climate change and all O’Toole did was play coy on an existential threat while the U.S. is turning up on this issue. He’s stringing along the Canadian voter as his party rebukes his direction. Less than 24 hours after O’Toole declared the climate change debate over, his party voted down the resolution to enshrine it in the party’s policy declaration. According to Global News, “54 per cent of delegates voted against expanding it to include the sentence “we recognize that climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act.” There’s no clearer way to toss up a middle finger to your leader than to repudiate his direction in public.

    Structural inequities

    This pandemic has revealed a truth about Canadian society and the infrastructures that serve it: they are delineated along racial, gender, and class lines. Where are these jobs O’Toole speaks of coming from, given that whole industries are suffering and those industries have traditionally employed single mothers, immigrants and migrants, and racialized people? Where does the proper compensation for essential workers, in terms of pay and benefits, fall in the Canada Recovery Plan?

    The CBC recently mapped pharmacies that are distributing the COVID vaccines across Toronto and surprise, surprise—the fewest were located in Black neighbourhoods. This is systemic racism that the Conservative Party has yet to acknowledge. In fact, almost a year after the death of George Floyd, they have yet to provide a statement that addresses systemic racism and Black people were barely acknowledged in O’Toole’s speech. You can’t condemn blackface to score political points and then ignore Black people per usual.


    Where is the policy response to the shecession? Women have been carrying the burden of this pandemic; women are the breadwinners, caregivers, housekeepers, and their jobs are particularly vulnerable. The economic gains of women are eroding quickly. As CBC reported, “Women—especially ones who weren’t earning much to begin with—are bearing the brunt of the job losses, as they made up a majority of the work force in hard-hit sectors like hospitality, retail, and food.” These realities were ignored by O’Toole in his speech, which borders on reckless for a party that has a difficult time attracting women to vote for them. It’s a wasted opportunity, given that the Canadian military is looking like Jeffrey Epstein’s security detail and the PM approved the performance pay of someone under investigation for alleged misconduct.

    The reality for the Conservative Party, whether they want to admit it or not, is that they have poisoned the well of potential voters. Their rhetoric has been alienating to voters who reside in the key 905, 416, 450, and 514 area codes they must win. In only winning one majority since Brian Mulroney’s 1988 re-election, the Conservatives are not trusted by voters beyond their own base. It is not enough to tell people they’re welcome, you have to give them an invitation and send them an Uber to your big tent.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.