With the Tory leadership race heating up and rumours about who is in and who is not, I thought I would lay out how they can win. As per my last blog that Canada is one of the most left wing countries on earth; this just underlies the challenge Tories face and that winning the next election is doable but is going to be a steep hill to climb. A lot in the base are in denial and think they can double down and Canadians will eventually come around to them. Reality is, it is not the media and its not because they didn’t explain their policies well enough that they lost; Tories lost as people didn’t like what they were offering. As such I believe next leader either should come from the former Progressive Conservative side or at least be more centrist than both Harper and Scheer. Some point to Harper, Ford, and Kenney’s success as proof Canadians will vote for a strong small c conservative, but I believe there are many flaws with that. Kenney won in Alberta which off course whomever the Tories chose will likely win and win big in, so being electable in the country’s most conservative province says nothing. Canada is a different place since 2006 and even 2011 so just as Liberals under Trudeau were different than the Chretien/Martin Liberals and Harper different than the Mulroney Tories; the next leader must be different than the Harper government. When people turf a party, they don’t come back until they’ve learned the lessons of their defeat. Doug Ford replaced a tired Liberal government who had been in power for 15 years and the way things are going will likely be a one term wonder. Eventually people will tire of the Liberals whereby whomever the Tories chose will win, but we are a long ways from that. So do most Tory supporters want to have Liberals govern for long periods with occasional Tory one term every now and then or would they like to govern on a more regular basis. Many are disappointed with Trudeau and may dislike certain policies of his, but outside those already voting Tory, very few share a visceral hatred of him the base does so pandering to those who hate Trudeau with a passion won’t cut it.
The next leader needs to be fully bilingual as while Stephen Harper won without Quebec; pulling off a repeat of what he got in Ontario is going to be very difficult thus party must do better in Quebec. They don’t need to win the majority of seats in Quebec, but should aim for around 25-30 seats and that won’t happen with a leader who doesn’t have a strong command of the French language. Next leader needs to be socially moderate. Social conservatism is dead and continuing to flog that horse will ensure they continue to lose. That means being pro-choice and that means marching in at least one gay pride parade each year. They need to have thoughtful intelligent policies, not ones that appeal to rash emotion. Party should not being overly nasty and divisive since going nasty polarizes the electorate and anytime that happens, it always works against the Tories for the simple factor there are more progressives than there are conservatives in Canada. It might work in countries where right and left are evenly split or right has a slight advantage, but that is not the case in Canada. So that rules out Pierre Polievere as a potential leader. They need a serious plan on climate change which means either having a revenue neutral carbon tax or some other plan that is easily explainable and supported by experts on climate change. Playing the idea it will be too difficult or Canada is too small to matter won’t fly. Canadians as we saw with our courage in World War II or our efforts on 9/11, we always step up to the plate when there is a challenge and playing to one’s own selfish instincts might work with some, but not the majority. Party should also think outside the box when dealing with challenges. Issues like poverty, climate change and many other similar issues need not be sole purviews of the left; its time to offer conservative solutions to deal with those. Also austerity is a tough sell so party should still make balancing the budget a priority, but should do so in a fiscally responsible way and likewise that should not preclude looking on the revenue side not just spending side. At same time anything on the revenue side should be through closing loopholes and reducing deductions, not increasing rates. I also think having a leader not from the Prairies is preferable and while this may anger the base, the party is by many viewed as an Alberta/Saskatchewan party not a national one so a leader from the East or even BC or Manitoba could help dispel this and show party is truly national. At least if another leader from Alberta or Saskatchewan is chosen, the deputy leader should be from Eastern Canada as a way to show the party is truly national not just focused on the most alienated parts of the country.
Some claim that if next leader is not from the Reform/Alliance wing and not from West (usually when they say West, they mean Alberta and Saskatchewan and almost always exclude BC or at least Coastal BC where 3/4 of our population lives) it will split the party. I think that is nonsense as Bernier’s PPC was meant for those who found Tories insufficiently conservative and went nowhere. Likewise here in BC, many said the same when Christy Clark was chosen as BC Liberal leader yet the splits on the right never materialized and when she finally lost her majority in 2017; it was due to loss of centrist not right wing voters. As such it is the middle of the road voters, not the hardcore base that matter. They can complain all they want, but have nowhere else to go never mind the parts of the country where they are most numerous; Tories win by such massive margins if a few disgruntled hard right wingers go to the PPC or Wexit party; it may push vote total down but not seat total which is what matters. At the end of the day the most reactionary elements are a huge anchor on the party so any short term pain from losing them will be long term gain. Vast majority of Canadians want nothing to do with the more extreme elements so it is in party’s interest to lose them. In many ways looking across the pond, its no different than Militant in 80s being purged from British Labour party. Had they not been purged, its unlikely party would have comeback under Tony Blair so loss of them was more than offset by gains of middle of the road voters. In many ways the more right wing reactionary elements be it social conservatives, gun lobby, rabid libertarians, climate deniers, Western separatists, and bigots are akin to Momentum and Corbynistas in British Labour party. All huge anchors on the party and long term will do better when they are purged. Right now barely 40% are even open to considering voting Tory and that needs to be widened. Too many Canadians loathe the Tories and that limits the number of votes they can pick up but also increases strategic voting and both make winning harder. By purging those right wing elements mentioned above, they will widen their appeal as well as progressives who may never vote Tory will vote for their first choice rather than voting strategically to block the Tories. That doesn’t mean they need to kick everyone who shares such views, it simply means leader must not pander to such views and if those groups complain, leader must stand their ground.
Some will say I am advocating liberal lite, which is nonsense. Trudeau has moved far enough to the left there is plenty of space in the centre or slightly right of centre. What it means is being realistic since when you live in one of the most left wing countries on earth, you aren’t going to be able to go as much to the right as some want or maybe feasible elsewhere. Likewise in 2011 and 80s when party won a majority, they were winning amongst the fastest growing groups. Today, party’s support is largely amongst groups that are shrinking in numbers, not those growing and that will be a problem long term. So those further right than me have to decide: is ideological purity so important that you are willing to remain in opposition for years to come or is it better to have someone more conservative than Trudeau but maybe not as Conservative as you are who can win? Unfortunately I think much of their base are in denial about the political reality. They spend too much time in their own echo chamber and wrongly assume most Canadians think like them. Others assume if only Canadians were told the truth, they would come around to their views rather than maybe accepting Canadians don’t like what they are selling.