John Ivison: Conservative Party must kill its own dragons and hope it attracts independent voters

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Maybe Justin Trudeau’s decision to call a general election in the midst of a pandemic, just as the Taliban took Kabul, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The results of a massive post-election poll conducted by the Conservatives revealed that the main reason people considering voting for the party did not do so were not because of guns or vaccines, c ‘was,’ I didn’t know enough about Erin O’Toole. ”

The snap election call, with most Canadians squeezing out the last few drops of summer, was deliberately designed to ensure that an almost anonymous Conservative leader remains someone most Canadians could not choose from a line of police.

If we are to believe the 10,000 people in the Conservative exit poll, the strategy worked.

This finding is unlikely to appease party members and MPs who believe O’Toole’s strategic shift to the center was responsible for the electoral failure.

The party won 119 seats last month, two fewer than the number won in 2019 and 40 fewer than the victorious Liberals. Of the 115 ridings in and around Canada’s three largest cities, the Conservatives won just eight.

O’Toole was forced to face his critics during a caucus meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday. The leader believes he has enough caucus support to stay, after spending two weeks contacting MPs. But his caucus voted in favor of a provision for a leadership review – something no losing leader can take for granted.

Internal sniping was made public this week, with Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs complaining that her share of the vote fell 15% this time around, compared to 2019 (from 84% in Putin to 69%). She said the Conservative Party is “more rural, more cohesive than we have ever been before. We have lost great, strong and necessary colleagues in the big cities, in all parts of the country and there has to be some accounting for that. ”

Senator Michael MacDonald from Nova Scotia appears to have volunteered as a workhorse for the party wing that wants to have immediate leadership review by members, not just MPs.

In a letter to caucus, he said O’Toole had “sold” the party’s position on fiscal responsibility by agreeing to leave the budget in deficit for a decade. He said the unpopularity of the Liberals – re-elected with the lowest percentage of the popular vote of all parties since Confederation – created a “huge opportunity” for O’Toole.

But he said the strategy of moving the party to the left “chased” traditional conservative voters.

“This was a massive rejection of our electoral strategy for which the leader must take responsibility, since no one else, certainly not the caucus, was involved in its creation,” he said.

O’Toole can fight his own battles. Since winning the leadership, it is fair to say that he has hardly been gregarious with his colleagues or the media.

MPs were struck by a big spending platform over which they had very little influence.

Failure to inspire the party’s electoral base undoubtedly cost O’Toole support and seats, especially in the West.

O’Toole’s strategy was based on the premise that if politics are partisan, voters are not.

There have been other notable failures, such as the inexplicable break with the Chinese-Canadian community that resulted in the loss of three seats in Vancouver and Toronto. Some votes may have been lost due to the misinformation sown by Beijing supporters in this country. But as Karen Woods, co-founder of the Canada-China Political Action Committee, noted in the National Post, Richmond Center’s Alice Wong lost by less than 800 votes, after winning 8,000 votes in 2019. The Liberal vote only increased by 1,500 votes. , suggesting that voters stayed home because the Conservative Party took them for granted.

Despite the mistakes, the revisionist view that allows some conservatives to claim that O’Toole missed a “huge opportunity” ignores the reality that for much of the pre-election period, the Tory leader seemed destined for notoriety. .

The pandemic meant O’Toole entered the campaign as a relative unknown. His supporters claim he simply ran out of time.

It’s debatable – the second half of the Conservative campaign was a rather listless affair that suggested O’Toole was losing momentum. The terrain changed midway through the campaign, as the pandemic (and the response of Conservative premiers) threw Justin Trudeau a lifeline.

But the opening weeks should give the Conservatives hope.

O’Toole’s strategy was based on the premise that if politics is partisan, voters are not.

The platform was designed to appeal to people who weren’t traditional conservative voters, and there were signs of progress. The Conservatives saw their share of the vote increase in six provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, and they won more seats in four provinces – Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. and Labrador. They were less than 2,000 votes from winning in 30 constituencies.

The result probably would have been much closer if the People’s Party had not rode the anti-vaccination wave and added 546,913 votes to its 2019 total, even as the total number of valid votes fell by 6%. In 21 constituencies, the PPC candidate’s vote outweighed the margin of victory in seats where the Tory candidate came second (although the party estimates that only a third of the PPC vote was made up of Tory defectors).

It might not matter next time. O’Toole’s assumption is that Maxime Bernier’s vehicle has reached its peak – and like its low profile and the pandemic, won’t be such a big factor in future elections.

There will always be center-right voters who prioritize purity over victory and they will find their place in the PPC. But the Conservative Party of Canada’s biggest challenge is how to overcome its branding issues with suburban voters and new Canadian voters, for whom it remains the party of climate deniers, snitch lines and barbaric cultural practices. .

If the Conservative Party is to avoid atrophy as the voice of rural Canada, it must slay its own dragons and hope its reform efforts prove attractive to independent voters.

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