OTTAWA—“Release the hounds!” is the resounding sentiment of many Conservatives after the bitter “L” they took in Election 43.
Last week, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, faced even more scrutiny on his intentions to continue as leader as he announced his leadership team for the House of Commons. While current caucus members have largely been mum on the issue, members of the CPC across Canada have been… less tactful.
But let’s play a game of political Sliding Doors, where we imagine a world in which Maxime Bernier had actually been elected leader of the Conservative Party. The tip line for barbaric practices would’ve been back, climate change would be some hoax concocted by the libs, and very likely some sort of Canada-wide version of Quebec’s Bill 21 would exist. Would Bernier’s hardline right-wing policies have won the hearts and minds of Canadians to ensure a Prime Minister Bernier? It seems very likely no, if only because the internalized racism of Canadians is far less overt than Bernier’s. And the votes of new Canadians, who live in the most contested ridings, surrounding major cities, would have been parked with the Liberals, thereby giving the Liberals—almost certainly—another majority.
So, at the very least Scheer can say, “At least I was a better option than that guy.”
The mediocrity is deafening and these chronic underperformances are quickly calcifying into a discernible ceiling.
The post-Harper CPC is in shambles, after a contentious leadership race in 2017. The party ultimately gave themselves a Sophie’s Choice for leader with Scheer and Bernier, foregoing more reasonable and modern options in Lisa Raitt and Michael Chong—not to mention Rona Ambrose, who wasn’t even permitted to run for leader since she served as the interim leader. The election of one of these three would have served as an important signal that the party understood that the world—and Canada—has evolved from their 2011 electoral victory in which the Reform-influenced Conservatives were finally given a turn at forming a majority. And we all know how that turned out.
Given this very recent history, one would think that party members and insiders would take recent political events such as the election of Donald Trump and Canadians’ reaction to it, the rise of climate change as an important policy problem, and the rise of the far right—all layered with the increased attention to social justice issues—as a clue as to where the electorate, which is now majority millennial, lies. Basically, the truth is this: every political party, organization, and corporation has to wake up to the fact that the country is more diverse in thought, word, deed, and complexion. The CPC had an opportunity to meet this evolution in a forward-looking way by taking into account the aforementioned demographic changes. Instead, they chose to go full Tea Party and are now brandishing their machetes for Andrew Scheer in a bloodletting that would make Brutus envious.
The Ides of March are coming. Andrew Scheer may want to circle it on his calendar.
One wonders if Scheer was just to be a political placeholder, set up to fail because he wasn’t their first choice. The Conservative Party’s first choice was—and still is—Stephen Harper, and a warped sense of what that leadership meant. Harper was the strong hand on the tiller of the nation, even if that nation didn’t want it. There seemed to be an undercurrent of misogyny in this idea of leadership, one drenched in the toxic patriarchy of our systems and society, dressed up as nostalgia for “better times.” It was this reason why Scheer, who was marketed to the party as a younger Harper, had such difficulty expressing a position on LGBTQ2+ rights, or why Indigenous issues were absent, or why abortion was an issue this last election. The Conservative Party has shown that its idea of leadership is authoritarianism by white men.
Frank Graves of EKOS Research extracted these attitudes amongst Conservatives voters in his exit polling analysis, tweeting: “One of the most interesting findings from our exit polling was the degree to which an ‘ordered’ or what some call authoritarian of ‘fixed’ outlook sorted vote choices, particularly those of CPC supporters.” If this is the way the Conservative base votes, that’s going to spell trouble for their attempts to appeal to a wider electorate of millennial women and people of colour who may be tired of being told what to do and how much they don’t fit into this idea of “leadership”.
Just ask Rona Ambrose. Her own party’s filibuster led to her private member’s bill, for judges to receive mandatory sexual assault training, dying on the Senate floor. Imagine if she were leader, what a different Conservative party this would have been. Instead, Canadians can look forward to a federal politics version of either Jason Kenney or Doug Ford, i.e Beavis and Butt-Head, as the Conservative leadership offerings for all of Canada. One is practicing his best rendition of a purge, the other is just a butthead.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.