This is it. This will be the final battle.
The Conservative Party of Canada is looking for a new leader after a disastrous 2020-2022 leadership led by Erin O’Toole. This party is at a crossroads. The Conservative Party of Canada, modern edition, started out as the Conservative Party of Canada in the days of Sir John A. Macdonald before it turned into the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (1942–2003) with Reform Party of Canada and Canadian Alliance thrown in for good measure.
It will change again, no matter what following the Sept. 10 leadership election. The serious candidates have announced their intentions, each representing a certain direction for the party. It will say a lot about where this party will be and what they feel is the pulse of Canada.
In irony of all ironies, former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who represented the provincial Liberal party, announced he was officially running for the federal Conservative leadership, in Alberta March 10. The 63 year-old made the announcement in front of a whopping 50 people at a Calgary brewery. That is what is known in marketing circles as a “soft launch.”
Charest is definitely positioning himself as the centrist, everybody-kinda-likes-him-traditional safe Conservative male candidate. Charest is the one with experience, the one who can bring everyone together. He’s your daddy’s Conservative leader. He is the political centre candidate of the three leaders.
From his website Charest describes himself as the “conservative voice that can bring our movement together around common cause issues that champion our values.”Mmm hmmm, yup.
Pierre Poilievre, 42, who has served in a lot of high profile shadow cabinet positions including Minister of Finance, Jobs and Industry, Employment and Social Development and Start of Democratic Reform; Leslyn Lewis, 51, is an Ontario lawyer and MP who finished third in the last Conservative leadership race. Ontario MP Roman Baber also declared he is running.
Will there be others? Peter MacKay who was oh-so-close during the last leadership race, Caroline Mulroney, the Ontario cabinet minister who has a famous father, and even Michelle Rempel Garner who managed to tear herself away from the States after living there during a lot of the pandemic are also notable possibilities.
Poilievre, the almost smarmy economic expert, has the endorsements of about 40 current Conservative MPs including Medicine Hat’s Glen Motz and Foothills John Barlow. Poilievre, who is to put it mildly, outspoken and doesn’t seem to lack in confidence, is that new, brash, but not yet lovable leader who is fearless, intelligent and doesn’t play mind games other than being headstrong. That will appeal to that far right faction who wants current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gone, like yesterday.
Lewis was the first minority woman to run for the federal Conservatives. Lewis was eventually eliminated in the third ballot. Lewis represents the far left/socially conscious part of the party with her website indicating: “Canada is in desperate need of Hope, Unity, and Compassion.”
Sounds like a younger version of Charest who is in more in tune with the younger generations. Unlike Poilievre, but like Charest, she comes across as diplomatic. Hence where the crossroads lies for the Conservatives. Do they try diplomacy or do they go for “in your face” politics? Poilievre has that side of the chalk line covered. Younger, but is he far enough right for those who are sick of what they see as one-sided and unfair federal Liberal/Ontario/Quebec domination?
Or do Conservatives try to win with diplomacy, only with a better option than O’Toole who never seemed to be comfortable. Tried to be old school, wasn’t conservative enough, tried to make him appeal to younger membership, but came across as awkward and not believable. Will party membership give Lewis a chance to be dynamic and appeal to new supporters?
And what if Poilievre loses? Does that mean he will leave the Conservatives and go join Maxime Bernier of the ultra-right People Party of Canada or create his own party who isn’t an extremist but far more right than what would be there now? Poilievre seems like an all or nothing type of person who needs complete control of a situation, much like the former Conservative Bernier.
Turmoil or exciting new possibilities: you decide.
Now before all of those right wing opponents start humming R.E.M.’s song “It’s the End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine)”, consider this: Canada needs the Conservative party or a reasonable facsimile.
Canada does not want to turn into a two party state. With all due respect to the should-be-much-better-but-yet-disastrous Green Party, the regional Bloc Quebecois and the myriad of “we want to separate from Canada or join the United States” parties, Canada without a strong, conservative Conservative party would not be healthy politically.
The federal Liberals, who have a history of governing Canada, a lot, have developed an expectation, some may say arrogance, about governing the country.
With the state of the other parties, they have every reason to feel like that. Their political machine with their bureaucrats, strategists and public relations people know how to win elections and stay in power. It’s fact.
No matter what happens, the Conservative party will cease to exist as it does now. Until their strategists figure out what all of Canada wants and needs, not just attack regional issues, they will watch as the big red machine continues to smile and wave from their padded federal seats in Ontario and the Greater Toronto area.
They have a chance to figure it out, set a direction and go with it in September, it starts with a new leader.