01.16.2017 10:00 PM

This week’s column: conservatives, call home

Anyone seen the Conservative Party of Canada?

 They were here just a minute ago. Remember? Had just about half the seats in the House of Commons? Forty per cent of the vote, give or take? Seats in every province but one? Fundraising behemoth? Remember them?

They were led by a guy who wasn’t particularly warm and cuddly, true. But he was a guy with a size twelve brain, and he’d humiliated a string of Liberal leaders – the one who was supposed to be a juggernaut, the intellectual one who carried around the book bag all the time, the one who popped up from Harvard to run things. Remember them? The Conservatives massacred all of them, one after another.

At the time – and for a good long time – the pundits and prognosticators would opine that the Conservative Party was unbeatable, and that Liberal liberalism was truly toast. They’d destroyed the once-great Liberal Party, for good. It was in all the papers. Peter C. Newman wrote a book about it, subtly subtitled “The Death of the Liberal Party.” A couple other pretty smart guys wrote another book about the big shift that had supposedly taken place, declaring that “the dusty liberal elite” had been “replaced by a new, powerful coalition.” A conservative one.

Remember all that stuff? Everyone agreed with it, at the time. The Conservative Party were heroes, Liberals were zeroes. The Left should all just get together and form one political party – and, in 2009, they even tried to do so. The Conservative Party of Canada was unbeatable, went the popular consensus, and everyone just needed to get used to it.

This is the part in the opinion column where we get to declare “that was then, this is now.” Or, “times change.” Or, “boy, those supposedly-smart people in Ottawa sure aren’t very smart.”

Now, now, we know what the Conservative faithful are going to say. They’re going to say we should cancel the search party. They’re going to say that they’ve had a setback, true, but that Canadian conservatism – or its oxymoronic twin, “progressive conservatism” – ain’t dead. We still raise tons of dough, they’ll say, and we have just about 100 seats in the House of Commons, and we are holding the Shiny Pony guy to account. Don’t write our obituary yet, they’ll say.

And they’re right, sort of. On paper, the Conservative Party seems to be doing…okay. They’ve got MPs, they’ve got money, they frequently get journalists to point microphones in their direction.

But, still. 

The Conservative Party seems to be a shadow of its former self, now. The Liberal Party isn’t “dead,” quote unquote – last we checked, it was running things again. There’s been no “big shift” either: the so-called Laurentian Elites are back, vacationing with the Aga Khan and blathering on about books and science and “evidence-based policy” and stuff.

Conservatives, meanwhile, are back to being mean and miserly. They’re nasty and brutish and short-sighted. Again.

Back when Big Brain ran things, knuckle-draggers and crypto-racists were summarily tossed overboard. Conservatives, not Liberals, were the party of the “new Canada,” and they enjoyed the support of plenty of folks with black and brown and yellow skin hues. Not for them, the anti-abortionists and homophobes: those kooks were all drummed out, or ruthlessly silenced. And money? They put the proverbial drunken sailors to shame, the Conservatives did, spending untold billions during the last great global recession.

And now? Well, now they are having a leadership race to replace the venti-sized brain guy. The candidate that has attracted the most attention – and the one who may very well win – has built a campaign entirely on fecklessly aping the Human Cheeto to the South, and bashing refugees and immigrants wherever and whenever possible. In this, a country of refugees and immigrants.

A couple of their leadership aspirants have started grousing about abortion. One has run ads saying marriage can only happen between a man and woman, common sense and Supreme Court rulings notwithstanding. “Politicians should have the courage to debate these issues in an open and respectful way,” said one of these leadership contestants, apparently unaware that denying citizens fundamental human rights is neither “courageous” nor “respectful.”

And so, yes, the Conservative Party has lots of money, still. It has bums filling seats in the House of Commons. It has a pulse. It is alive.

But its brain? Its heart? The things it did for a decade, to ensure that all Canadians were treated fairly and equitably? The efforts it made to make itself into a modern, diverse, tolerant political party?

That party is dead. 

And – if not dead – it has gone missing, maybe for good.




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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I was among those who said repeatedly that Harper would never, ever, kill off the Liberals. I will die a proud Progressive Conservative – – a party that no longer exists. Many of us were socially Liberal and fiscally Conservative, just like many Liberals.

    Even the CPC are bright enough not to pick a leader who will bury them. They will choose another Harper – – a man or woman but in softer earth tones. There are good candidates there: Deepak, Andrew, Michael, Lisa and even Max. They can be competitive.

    Harper couldn’t kill off Liberals and Trudeau won”t annihilate Conservatives. Those are simply wishful pipe dreams.

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      daveconstable says:

      One thing that reminds me of USA the past couple of years is the coverage our Canadian media is giving to a tv personality who is not in the leadership race. I think he lives in USA still. Those who ahve declared their leadership run must be envious that he is getting as much coverage as all of them put together.
      It reminds me of how Trump did not have to do much advertising stateside during the nomination race. The media down there give him 90% or so of their coverage.

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    Jean says:

    Well said, WK! But I do wish that the moderate “wing” as represented by Chong, Rempel and Raitt would get serious consideration by editorial writers and party members.
    My particular peeve about the CPC has to do with how the Big Brain extended the appointments of people in control of Crown Corporations and CBC, and brainwashed some of the deputy ministers perhaps, so that anti liberal obstructionism and poisonous partisanship still lingers.
    Online trolls also remain very very busy on behalf of their chosen Conservative cause.
    So the Conservative Party may be outwardly in disarray, but the ultrapartisan rifle-loving die-hards who type away in their rooms or offices will never stop hating liberal viewpoints and those who express progressive ideas.

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    Dan F says:

    Seems like a regular occurrence in Canada. I recall that in a pre-historic time, when you and Barney the dinosaur were running the country, the same things were said even then about how the current state of things was the way it would always be.

    What I have learned in my 38 years on this planet (oh g-d am I old) is that pundits, politicians and press have a very poor record of seeing the future. In fact it is quite dismal, as none can imagine a future that is any different from the present, when in fact it is always so.

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    the salamander horde says:

    Well said.. its now The Harper Rump .. possibly pinning its hopes on Kellie Kouvalis Inc. I had to laugh when Peter Van Loan more than endorsed his rumoured ex paramour (they ‘dated’ some say) ..

    As a shining example of the surviving Party of Harper, Van Loan’s stirring speech in Commons about what he saw at Elbowgate left me wondering about his sanity and any others in that odd conservative club. Remember how he screetched about ‘seeing’ Young middle aged Justin Trudeau come storming across the floor with anger in his eyes blah blah..

    Well anyone who watched the infamous video surely noticed he had his face in his paper and phone throughout, never even looked up and indeed as the brouhaha shuffled off had to put on his glasses. Yes, there he is in the video, right beside Niki Ashton who’s wearing bright orange.. front row seats eh. This was Harper’s go to guy for procedure & parliamentary process, tying up the House while telling us what he never saw, unless the top of his head has eyes. Its not arguable. He saw nothing.

    So what to make of the rest of that gang? It ‘did not end well’ as another top Harper guy once said

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    jay says:

    “They’re nasty and brutish and short-sighted.” Nice one–Hobbes would approve.

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    P. Brenn says:

    parties in power get tired or electorate get tired of them… neither will go away for ever… now NDP need to find a spot …after the AGM/confidence vote/leadership woes where will they end up. Still great country

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    Dan Calda says:

    The irony of the Leitch, Blaney, etc schtick…coupled with Trudeau’s brilliant outreach…10 years of Jason Kenney’s work courting immigrant communities is up in smoke. Once your Party or brand is perceived as racist…that is awful hard to change. Older white folks may stick with their Party…but our youth, non whites will be awful hard to get back.

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      Charlie says:

      Actually, Kenney’s “outreach” (which really wasn’t all it was hyped up to be) went up in smoke when Stephen Harper thought it was a good idea to campaign on dog-whistle politics in 2015. That and the snitch-line pretty much erased whatever goodwill the CPC had built up in immigrant communities over its time in government.

      But I completely concur with the rest of your comment. The Conservative party cannot form government with only its 30% base; there aren’t enough older white folks who would align themselves with the prevailing ideologies of the Conservative party to alone put them ahead of the Liberals.

      Justin Trudeau’s outreach and symbolic campaigning in a broader cross-section of Canadians has pretty much locked-in significant voting blocks for the Liberal party for as long as he remains leader.

      I don’t think Conservatives realize how much of an albatross social-conservatism is going to be for their party going into future elections. Attracting educated, metropolitan and younger Canadians is going to be very difficult if the leader of the CPC reflects views of an aging rural demographic. While social issues will always be a part of the larger debate, the stigma of being way too eager to exploit issues is and will continue to be something the CPC fights. Re-opening issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration scanning is definitely a reflexive act for Conservatives but its not a healthy one.

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    Miles Lunn says:

    Things go in cycles and I never buy the hype of a particular party being dead. The Conservatives may have their difficulties now, but eventually they will return to office when people tire of the Liberals (probably not in 2019, but it will happen as it always does). As for the Liberals disappearing, a lot of that was based on the idea a party in third place usually doesn’t come back and many thought the NDP would replace them much like what happened in Britain 100 years earlier where Labour replaced the Liberals as the main opposition to the Tories. However they thing they forgot is outside of Quebec, NDP only had a marginal lead over the Liberals and their big gains in Quebec were mostly due to Jack Layton not Quebecers embracing the NDP so it was not unreasonable at all the Liberals would come back. I thought they would, my only surprise was how quickly. I thought like many it would take two election cycles rather than one, otherwise they would be back in power in 2019 rather than 2015, but I never bought the idea of them being dead.

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    Vancouverois says:

    So in the same post, you point out how ridiculous it was for people to confidently predict the imminent demise of the Liberal party… and go right ahead and confidently predict the demise of the Conservative party?

    Before proclaiming their obituary, let’s at least wait until they actually, you know, select a leader.

    (There are actually people who are interested in the job – a lot of them! Which is more than can be said for the NDP, for example.)

    The Conservatives are in much, much better shape than the Liberals were for a long time. And Trudeau is losing his luster every day. Who knows where things will stand by the time it’s 2019?

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      BlueGritr says:

      Trudeau is not losing his lustre. He does retail politics like no one else in this country, and that’s huge at election time. As for the Conservatives, they’ll pick a lame leader, who will garner them about 48 seats in 2019. It’s lights out for this hapless bunch.

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        Miles Lunn says:

        I cannot see them going below 60 seats. Most of the Prairies outside of the cities is solidly Conservative and they should win some seats in rural Ontario, BC Interior and Fraser Valley. They could lose seats but their base is fairly resilent while Trudeau is good at retail politics that only goes so far. Yes Trudeau will probably win in 2019, but its far from certain. And even if the Tories lose seats eventually people will tire of the Liberals at which point the Tories will come back.

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        The Doctor says:

        Can’t wait to check back in with you in 2019 re: that 48 seat projection.

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        Vancouverois says:

        He keeps making foolish and unforced errors. Like being asked a question about health care for the English-language minority in Quebec, and smarmily answering in French because “we’re in a French province”. Or being lured into answering a substantive question only when people pretend they want a selfie with him (https://www.buzzfeed.com/ishmaeldaro/bait-and-switch-selfie?bffbcanada&utm_term=.tvWlQXP2oO#.qbKer3E589)… and then giving an answer that contradicts his own government’s position.

        By 2019, a lot more people may well have come to the conclusion that they made a foolish mistake they made by picking him over what you call a “lame” leader who actually knows his business.

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      Dan Calda says:

      I would argue that the Conservatives are in the same boat the Liberals were under Mr. Dion. A Party of factions, tribes and cults. Not a viable national Party. Unless they purge, renew and bring in new blood…they will be in the wilderness for a decade. Having the NDP in disarray…does not help Conservatives either.

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    Aongasha says:

    Funny though how over the year, political parties,(hello there LPC), being written off by pundits, partisans and the media, somehow always come back and win. Which says more about the common sense of the folks, than the prognostications of those supposedly expert in such matters.

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    Kelly says:

    40% of the vote does not qualify a party to run roughshod over our laws and ruin the lives of many, many, people. Harper was PM because we still don’t have PR. Bring in PR and the entire phony narrative of regionalism, the rise of conservatism (it never rose) and the death of centre left politics (it got Stronger) falls apart (Alberta has an NDP government for Pete’s sake). We live a lie in Canada… the lie that the current Conservative party has anything to offer the country. The old party of Hugh Segal is dead. Oh . . . and the 40% comments goes for the other parties, too.

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      Miles Lunn says:

      Europe mostly uses PR and they have plenty of right wing governments so switching to PR doesn’t necessarily mean a more progressive government. If anything it means parties on both the extreme left and extreme right gain more power whereas FTFP and ranked ballots tend to push parties closer to the middle. Never mind in Alberta with PR you would have a right wing not left wing government now as the PCs + WRA was 52% of the popular vote so more voted for parties on the right than left.

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        daveconstable says:

        I’m not sure teh narrative that the political centre is ideal, or superior. FPTP does give all power to a minority. Ranked would give all power to a majority that is 2ndor 3rd choices. I prefer leftie governance, but I also prefer accurate representation. I think a mixed system, say 40% of seats FPTP, of that vertical geographic representation, mixed with 60% of seats filled by pr, to give us that across the land, horizontal representation, would give us more accurate representation. I would look, too, for the pr part to erode some of the absolute powers of the PMO.

        FPTP exacerbates regional differences, gives false majorities, and gives absolute power to the PMO – a lobbyist’s dream.

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    Doug says:

    Harper was the Conservative Party and few leadership hopefuls have the capabilities to lead such a raucous coalition. I was a huge supporter right from 1993 as a U of A graduate recently moved to Calgary West. The media slaughtered him for not being one of their own. The country is far worse off (ex. $30B deficit with no plans to balance) in its choice of style over substance. Canada is back alright. The old Canada of lethargic growth, spiraling debt, acquiescence to public sector employees and media pundits.

    I’m so out of my element on this forum, but find it hugely informative. I even went to Warren’s high school, and was one of the few self directed learners who finished in less than 3 years rather than in more

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      Jon A says:

      Douglas Namedrop-Humblebrag, Bishop Carroll, majored in humility.

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      Dan Calda says:

      Were you a huge supporter when Mr. Harper ran 6 straight deficits, added $160 billion to our debt and almost destroyed our economy by going all in for oil…yet never getting a pipeline built?
      If Trump imposes a border tax on oil (which I doubt)…the Alberta Advantage is gone…and this country is in for a decade of lethargic growth.

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    !o! says:

    Yes, but Ford and Trump.

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