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