The problem with the Conservative Party of Canada is that it is the Conservative Parties of Canada.
That’s the real dilemma facing the Official Opposition. That’s the real reason they ousted Erin O’Toole as leader. And that’s why they are unlikely to win any elections anytime soon.
The Conservative Party of Canada isn’t singular. It’s plural. It is literally two political visions — one Western-based, rural and angry. The other: central Canadian, urban and progressive.
They weren’t always like that. But now they are just that: two warring factions pretending to be one political alternative — the Reform one, and the Progressive Conservative one. Two siblings living under the same roof, hating each other, resenting each other, unable to agree on anything.
Erin O’Toole made many mistakes. That’s clear.
But ignoring the civil war within Canada’s conservative movement wasn’t one of them. In fact, O’Toole regularly attempted to be on both sides of the civil war — on carbon taxes, on vaccinations, on assault weapons, on social issues. On everything.
His big mistake was that he was up and down like a toilet seat. He tried to make everyone happy, and thereby ended up making everyone unhappy. Just this week, we saw yet more evidence of that.
First, he said he wasn’t going to meet with the Omniconvoy truckers. Then he said he would. Then he condemned them for desecrating the War Memorial. At the end of it, you couldn’t be certain if he wanted to arrest the truckers, or drive a rig onto the Hill himself.
His predecessor, Andrew Scheer, made the same mistake. He’d profess to be a tolerant, diverse, modern conservative – and then he’d sit down for an interview with Faith Goldy, who the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith has termed a “white supremacist,” quote unquote.
Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, the modern-era Conservative Party was two parties, too. Harper — being the guy who brought together the warring conservative factions with Peter MacKay (more on him in a moment) — knew that he was the father of two siblings who hated each other’s guts.
Not so subtly, he’d signal which side he favoured — expelling MPs who tried to reignite the abortion and gay marriage debate. Spending like a proverbial sailor during the great global financial crash of 2008-2009. Reaching a residential school settlement with Indigenous victims.
But occasionally, he’d throw a bone to the troglodyte faction, to keep them in line: stuff like the “barbaric practices” hotline (which cost them power and should still serve as a lesson they still haven’t learned).
But mainly, Harper kept the two conservative parties in line with fear. Members of his caucus were afraid of him. They knew he was smarter and more strategic than they were, and they knew what would happen to them if they got out of line.
Erin O’Toole didn’t inspire fear. He inspired contempt and derision.
He was, as I liked to say, remarkably unremarkable. We never knew what his passion was. We never got to see what was inside his heart, in his gut. He tried to be all things to all people, and ended up being nothing at all.
Where does the Conservative Party go from here?
I suspect they’ll reject urban, moderate, experienced choices like MacKay — who was always a better choice than O’Toole — and embrace anger. They’ll go with one of the Opposition MPs who are good at opposition, but you can’t ever picture in government. As prime minister.
As he packs up at Stornoway, O’Toole can comfort himself with one thing: it was never going to work out.
Because the one party you ran to lead, Mr. O’Toole?
It’s two parties.
— Kinsella was special assistant to Jean Chretien