Why Tories lost and what they need to do going forward

Tories lost primarily for four reasons and two were avoidable while two were not, but may not be issues next time around.

  1. Liberals have only been in power for 6 years and despite many mistakes and some dissatisfaction, fatigue has not yet set in nor are people in the throw the bums out mood yet. As old saying goes, governments don’t get elected, governments defeat themselves. And Liberals haven’t yet reached that stage.
  2. Vaccine passports and mandates. Most of us are tired of pandemic and want to return to normal and we know only way to do this is mass vaccination. Tories support vaccination but feel carrot not stick approach is solution. Most of rest of us have lost our patience with anti-vaxxers and have zero sympathy for them. So any party willing to accommodate them even if not blatantly anti-vax like PPC will be hurt politically.
  3. Gun control. Party’s momentum stopped almost right around when Liberals attacked party on gun control stance. Attack ads on abortion and health care largely fell flat, but gun control flip flop hurt party. For gun lobby types, some went PPC, but more importantly in GTA where gun control is popular, this was enough to push many back to Liberals. Gun control may not be top of mind issue, but main thing Tories need to do to win is appear moderate and on this issue they did not. I know gun lobby types will make all the excuses here. But here is reality, most Canadians don’t analyze policy in detail, they go more on what sounds right vs. doesn’t. And no amount of explaining technical details will convince people civilians should be allowed to own these weapons. There may be good rationale arguments why ban was wrong (even though I disagree with them), but its not an issue you will ever win public over on. And with people who care passionately about this in terms of wanting to own such guns being such a small part of the population, I fail to see how it is an issue worth losing an election over. Canada is not a Conservative country, so I’ve always said pick your battles wisely.
  4. Jason Kenney’s incompetence on Covid-19. Polls showed issue that helped Trudeau most was COVID-19. After Kenney’s announcement and disastrous numbers in Alberta, this made many worry that if Tories were in power things would be much worse off. Reality is COVID-19 has generally not been an issue favourable to parties on right in Canada. Economic recovery is Tories’ strength while COVID-19 is weakness and Tories needed to make ballot question about post covid economy, not how do we end pandemic. And when things were going well coast to coast, that was easy to do. But as soon as one province fell into trouble, it once again brought COVID-19 back as a major issue to the Conservative’s detriment. Also fact Kenney endorsed O’Toole and O’Toole earlier praised Kenney made it even more damaging. I can say a lot of federal Tories are quite mad at Kenney and feel his mishandling not just hurt party in Alberta, but had a ripple effect in rest of country.

Good news is #1 depending on how long minority last will probably work more favourable to Tories as fatigue will be that much stronger. For #2, hopefully by then pandemic is behind us thus vaccines will matter less, but if not, could be even more damaging if party doesn’t get fully behind it. #3 is a weak spot and party needs to bite the bullet here and just accept reversing any past gun bans including May 1, 2020 is a vote loser and if you care about other issues, its not worth losing over. For #4, good news is Kenney as premier will likely be gone by next election as either party removes him (most likely) or voters will. And not all Conservative premiers have mishandled this, Manitoba and Ontario have done okay job while Maritime premiers have done quite well so if O’Toole is smart he would try to get cozier with Maritime premiers while distance more from Prairie ones.

As for how to go forward, I think there are a few things party needs to do and a few things it needs to avoid. I believe changing leaders would be a very bad idea. Fact is majority of Canadians due to bad experiences here and abroad have some worries about electing a Conservative government and way you assuage those fears is have a leader who is well known so people get comfortable with them. Not keeping changing leaders and thus allow Liberals to win on fearmongering each time. Yes I favoured dumping Scheer, but it was clear Scheer had way too many vulnerabilities and was never going to win. He started campaign in lead and continued to fall as things progressed. Never mind he gained mostly in areas Tories least needed (i.e. Alberta and Saskatchewan) and went backwards in areas where they needed to do better. By contrast O’Toole saw biggest drop in votes in Tory strongholds while asides Lower Mainland, his vote went up in areas Tories needed to win. Not enough to flip many seats, but at least right direction. Add to fact Scheer started with much higher approval than O’Toole, but more people saw him, less they liked him. By contrast, more people saw O’Toole better his approval did. Reason he lost is 5 weeks was not enough time to introduce him to Canadians. So its not result so much as trajectory that is key. But final reason I support keeping him as past leadership races have shown repeatedly party membership is very right wing and chances are replacement will be someone further to right who appeals to base, not a moderate who can appeal to swing voters. If party membership was more centrist, I would be more open although still not support replacing him. But due to how right wing party membership is, I don’t trust them one bit to make right choice. I sadly feel only way to win is run hard right in leadership and sprint to centre after like O’Toole did.

On policy, I believe party needs to stick close to centre. Going from being too right wing to centrists won’t win over centrist voters right away. People want more time to see shift is genuine, not just opportunistic. But more importantly I have analyzed data closely by riding and argument party lost by not being right wing enough doesn’t stand up to facts. Asides from Northern Ontario (where party has never done well in over a century), most of the PPC’s best showings were in ridings Tories were already winning anyways. Yes if they won those votes, their popular vote lead would be higher, but still would have lost in seats. Getting 60% instead of 80% in a rural Prairie riding may bring down vote total, but doesn’t make one iota of difference in seats which is what matters. Fact is biggest gains for party were in Atlantic Canada which has mostly people from former Progressive Conservatives. In Quebec party saw slight increases and history shows Quebecers tend to swing en masse, but only once they know a leader well. Jack Layton and Francois Legault didn’t do well in Quebec on first try, but eventually won after Quebecers got familiar with them. In Ontario, party went up in votes in most non-diverse GTA ridings, just not enough to flip seats. Trudeau won by 9% in Ontario in 2019 while lead was cut to 4% in 2021. Yes unfortunately not enough to flip many seats, but close enough that Tories are knocking in the door in many ridings and no reason if they learn from their mistakes, they can win those next time around. Lower Mainland was indeed a disappointment, but both federal and provincial results suggest it has clearly moved leftward in last decade and not sure how much more party can do. Losses in Alberta were due to Kenney and besides despite a huge vote drop there, Tories are so safe most Alberta seats that it didn’t cost them a lot of seats.

Now one area O’Toole did go backwards was amongst visible minorities. Party definitely did poorly in minority-majority ridings and if they wish to win, they have to fix that. But I absolutely believe it can be done. Since parties on right have a history of attracting too many racists, it is understandable many conservative leaning visible minorities may be reluctant to vote Conservative. But good news as Ford in 2018 and Harper in 2011 showed, that can be overcome. With pandemic, O’Toole really had no chance to introduce himself here. But as things re-open, there is plenty of opportunity to get out and meet with various communities to help make himself more known.

Many complain about certain policies being Liberal lite and yes Tories are more centrist than Harper was, but guess what country has moved leftward. More importantly O’Toole was like the former Progressive Conservatives pre-merger and not too much different than many small c conservative parties overseas be it CDU/CSU in Germany or British Tories. Fact is Canada is more like other Western democracies than we are US. US is very much an anomaly in how right wing they are so trying to be like GOP will ensure party remains stuck in opposition. Main criticisms were carbon tax, not pro-freedom enough, and lack of fiscal conservatism. Here is reality, climate change was a distant threat under Harper so not top priority, but that is no longer true. It is a clear present danger and trying to wish it away or pretend its not a problem just won’t cut it. Regardless of ideology, most want parties that deal with big issues and tend to punish those that stick to ideology even when facts say otherwise. Good news, is being for a carbon tax is not a left wing idea. First carbon tax in North America was introduced by Gordon Campbell in BC who was a staunch fiscal conservative. In fact Tories can use revenue from this to balance budget sooner and after that cut income and corporate taxes, all things Tories like and do so while avoiding unpopular austerity while helping deal with climate change. As for not being pro-freedom, most of the pro-freedom crowd are not really pro-freedom. They are rather selfish assholes who want the right to do whatever they want even if it harms others. Freedom is very important to most Canadians, but so is greater good as we are part of a society and our actions impact others. Party should be for unlimited freedom so long as it doesn’t harm anyone. But moment one’s actions harm another, that is when their freedom ends. We have speed limits and DUI laws for this reason and public health restrictions like masks and vaccine passports are no different than those. Most rightly accept you don’t have right to drive 200km/h on our roads nor do you have right to get wasted at a bar and then jump behind the wheel. So saying you need to wear masks and limit large gatherings to only vaccinated is exactly same principle. More importantly, when seat belt laws were brought in and more recently when DUI limits reduced from .08% to .05% you saw same arguments about how limiting freedom, but after a few years most accepted new rules and now no one talks about going back. Same thing will over time happen with masks and vaccine passports if pandemic becomes permanent and we cannot eradicate it. On the fiscal front, yes I was a bit disappointed with big spending, but here is reality: with pandemic fiscal conservatism is not popular anywhere. However with huge deficits, I believe there is a very good chance public appetite for it will be much stronger next time around. So rather than sound tone deaf, better to spend now but not as crazy as other parties and as public becomes more open to fiscal conservatism then shift. Focus should be on end results not process. And if to get there means a longer detour, that is better than never getting there.

I am quite pleased at direction party has taken and unlike 6 months ago, I for first time since defeat in 2015 am feeling cautious optimistic. But there are still some weaknesses that need to be corrected. Obviously with a changing world, platform will need to be adjusted next time around, but overall ideological bent shouldn’t change significantly. I think few things party needs do however to fix few weaknesses

  1. Liberals are going to use strong attack ads so check every single line and strongly vet candidates as only takes one controversial line in platform or one bozo candidate can sink party. It may not be fair as Liberals can get away with far more mistakes than Tories, but it is reality and can be corrected through focus.
  2. Have clear answers to all attacks and surprise questions. O’Toole on far too many issues be it gun control or Kenney’s handling of pandemic dodged questions. I understand challenge here, but advisors need to be prepared for those and rehearse clear and concise answers. A clear and concise answer puts those issues to bed immediately. Waffling keeps them in news and prevents ability to focus on other issues where party is strong.
  3. Good data. Under Harper Tories were far superior but today Liberals have far better data which is why their vote was more efficient. I feel since loss, Tories have been too blinded to what is happening on the ground and thus missed many opportunities, but also ignore problems until too late. With detailed data, you can spot problems before others and fix them quickly. Party beats Liberals hands down in fundraising so no reason they cannot invest this money to improve this. Spend heavily on focus groups on messaging, conduct polling in multiple languages and get regular feedback from candidates what is happening at doors. Party has money to do this and they need to start investing it here. Social media ads as we saw with NDP may be great at attracting younger voters, but because they often don’t show up, I don’t believe it is best use.

Tories can win next election although it won’t be easy, but is doable. And while they have a lot going for them, if they don’t fix their weaknesses, next election will end in another disappointment.

4 thoughts on “Why Tories lost and what they need to do going forward

  1. A few thoughts about going further:

    * Atlantic Canada’s gains for the CPC may not have been old PC types (even though, outside rural Anglophone New Brunswick, the old Reform-Alliance never got more than 10% anywhere). If that were the case, they would have been in ridings like St. John’s, Moncton and closer to Halifax where they used to win, not Cape Breton or central Newfoundland which have always been Liberal. It could just be them joining the rest of Canada in rural-urban splits.

    * Northern Ontario was interesting to see. Not only did the CPC basically hold, the PPC was the big surprise there, and in every riding except one, the combined vote would have beaten the Liberals and NDP – including in places like Sudbury and Timmins that have never gone to any shade of conservatism. Could, by 2030, that region become an area that reliably elects conservatives? I think it is very possible, similar to the Red Wall collapsing in the UK post-Brexit or places like the Iron Range and Driftless areas in the Midwest that zoomed away in the Trump era. That will take time to analyze though.

    * I do believe the major cities are moving leftward and fast. However, rural areas (from eastern Ontario to the BC Interior) are moving rightward. Even in Atlantic Canada, that may be the case, but it will take at least one or two more elections to confirm. If the Conservatives want to hold that and ignore the big cities, that will be depending on a Quebec breakthrough and basically taking over the Bloc seats, plus winning the unlikely places like northern Ontario and more in the Atlantic. There is no evidence that such is happening, and even that would get them to about 155 seats. The last 15-20 seats are the problem, especially since the Bloc would be annihilated in that scenario…

    * As far as hardline MP’s or candidates, unfortunately, that is likely something that will be a reality for the CPC. After all, they are almost always in ridings where the Liberals and NDP are completely out to lunch in, and with the PPC potentially lurking, they will be part of life if they don’t want to risk losing those support (and having embarrassing results like losing safe seats on their right). The median voter in those ridings tends to at least lean (if not be strongly) pro-life, and at least have some skepticism towards things like carbon taxes and gun control. Those are toxic in major urban ridings which these days are very pro-climate, strongly for gun bans and strongly pro-choice, but all politics is local.

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    1. Generally would concur and yes Atlantic Canada does seem to be seeing similar urban vs. rural divide although not fully there but moving there. Places like rural Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, PCs even pre-merger didn’t do well there whereas St. John’s where they did the Tories did poorly. Rural Francophone New Brunswick was the one rural part of Atlantic Canada that Liberals still won big however, but probably over language rights as Glengarry-Prescott-Russell which is majority Francophone went Liberal unlike other rural Southern Ontario ridings.

      I agree for Tories a real challenge, but suburbs as we’ve seen provincially can swing right and in 905 belt there were many ridings where a few more points for Tories and a few more for NDP would do trick, but long term trends don’t look good. Best thing long term though would be for Liberals to fall to third and NDP be main opponent. It seems in 905 belt at least, less so in Lower Mainland suburbs, in Tory/NDP races many who normally vote Liberal will go Tory as NDP a bridge too far. However, like any party you cannot control how your opponents do.

      As for more right wing MPs, its simple math there. Most of those ridings, left so weak and while PPC may come in second, its a very distant one and so while yes constituents may lean right, you can still win as a moderate. That being said in BC interior or rural Ontario where Tories win but not blowout margins like Prairies, not sure that is true. Eric Duncan who is openly gay and Michael Chong who is a Red Tory both got over 50% (only 6 such ridings in Ontario where this happened) while Cheryl Gallant known to be one of the nuttier ones fell just shy of that while provincially John Yakabuski got 69% in last provincial election so suggests even there being moderate doesn’t hurt. Likewise in Southwestern Ontario, Karen Vecchio who is quite moderate got just shy of 50% while Chelsea Hillier (Randy Hillier’s daughter) got 11% and despite higher PPC total there, Tories didn’t go down. And even in Prairies, most of the growth is in the cities which tend to be more moderate. In Kenney’s caucus real divide between Calgary MLAs and rural ones as former have supported public health restrictions whereas latter much more likely to oppose them and many quite crazy in views.

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  2. Please – you need to paragraph more; reading solid blocks of unending text is hard on the eyes.

    O’Toole can stay but his campaign/OLO team need to get tossed into the nearest dumpster. And for all the money the CPC has spent on “communications experts” over the years, there’s precious little to show for it. Whoever thought that O’Toole ignoring inconvenient questions in press conferences and simply going all Polly-wanna-cracker with repeated talking points should be busted down to bus wash duty from here on in.

    Whether they like it or not, voters get their info from media and as a non-political colleague of mine put it when he received one of the many clips of O’Toole ignoring questions: “Who the hell does this guy think he is?” CPC needs to understand that their petty hatreds of Trudeau and the media are not shared by the population at large, and that they come across as idiots.

    It’s not left-right, it’s professionalism-amateur hour that makes the difference. And Trudeau doing those town hall meetings and having to deal with questions and hecklers in the “now” is good experience for any politician. O’Toole doesn’t have the guts to risk something like that unless all the questions are planted first.

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    1. Absolutely communications team needs to go and yes answering tough questions is definitely key in the future. And also most don’t hate Trudeau or media like base does. To be fair Liberals were far more negative, but I think they played on negative stereotype many already have of Tories which they need to end.

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