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.
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.