Political civil wars

In the Globe and Mail, Eric Andrew-Gee, reporting from National Harbor, MD, Washington, DC, and Miami, FL, and, in the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Coyne, writing from Canada, both speculate that the Republican Party may be coming apart at the seams and may split after a divisive political civil war. I suspect both might be right …it seems to me that Donald Trump is pulling the GOP in directions that are anathema to many who remain faithful to its small town/main street roots.

But I wonder how stable our parties are in Canada.

I well remember 1993 when the rise of the Reform Party and the BQ almost destroyed the old Progressive Conservatives, and, again, just 10 years later when the Conservative Party was formed from the remnants of Stephen Harper’s Canadian Alliance Party and Peter MacKay’s Progressive Conservatives. I am also reminded that the Liberals have had “civil wars” ever since the mid 1960s when Lester Pearson bought a handful of lefty Quebecers ~ Jean Marchand, Gerard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau ~ into the party and they, all believers in the output of

TRUDEAU-SWEARING-IN-900the infamous 1960 Kingston Conference, went to “war” with the party establishment, including Pearson himself, but especially with the heirs to the moderate policies of St Laurent, King and Laurier. The first phase of the Liberal civil war was fought between Pierre Trudeau and John (Chick) Turner who represented what was left of the Liberal right wing. (They are pictured here with James Richardson (later Defence Minister) on Trudeau’s right, Don Jameson (mostly hidden behind Trudeau) and Marchand and Pelletier on Turner’s left.)

The Conservative had a small civil war of their own almost as soon as the party was formed. Some former PCs, who were both socially progressive and fiscally conservative, thought that there was too much socially conservative, especially religiously BrisonScott_Libbased homophobic, and economically illiterate, feeling in the old Reform Party. That’s why Scott Brison jumped from the new Conservative Party to the Liberals where he found kindred spirits in the likes of John Manley. Mr Brison didn’t believe that

CP Rail in Calgary, Alberta, Photograph by Todd Korol

Stephen Harper could (as he did) hammer down the social conservatives and shift the party to the centre. But Mr Manley, himself, was the focal point of Liberals those who wanted to rebel against Jean Chrétien’s cynically partisan foreign policies. No party is immune to these civil wars.

A Canadian (Political) Civi War?

I wonder if the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership campaign might not lead to another political civil war … one wonders if, for example, I get my choice and we have a socially moderate, even a “progressive” leader, if one wing of the party, the so called “hard” or “religious right,” might not bolt. Or, suppose, the “religious right” gets the candidate of its choice … where do many “moderates” go? Do they stay and start a civil war, or do they bolt the party? And what about the fiscally conservative Liberals, the so called blue or Manley Liberals? How long will they be able to stomach Prime Minister Trudeau’s completely irresponsible spending and borrowing spree? Will the now dormant but half century old Liberal civil war be reignited or will they, too, just bolt their party?

If some of the guessing, about a civil war within and a consequential split of the US Republican Party is correct then it will, without question, be noted by Canadians and some Canadians will feel emboldened to try the same thing if they do not get the party leader and/or platform they think is essential.

There are suggestions that something like 10% of Liberals are “blue” of Manley Liberals, while more than 40% are “orange” or socialist (NDP) Liberals.

Let’s suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turns out to be just as bad as we Conservatives fear and that we elect a “social conservative” as our Conservative leader. We now have two disaffected groups on the Liberal side:

  1. Those, mostly NDP supporters and young voters who came out to vote for “change” but who now believe they got change for the worse – let’s say they accounted for fully 25% of the total Liberal vote; and
  2. The blue Liberals who have just had enough. Lets assume they are, indeed, about 10% of the party base.

We also have a disaffected group on the Conservative side: the socially moderate or progressive Conservatives. Let’s suppose that the moderates, like me, make up 25% of the party’s base.

If all three groups bolt their parties then the Liberals are back down to 26% of the committed electorate, the Conservatives are back down to about 24% and the NDP is back up to about 16%. (I picked those numbers so that they would add up to 66%.) That leaves⅓ of the electorate, almost all of it squarely in the middle, I think, up for grabs. Suppose those disaffected Tories and blue Liberals form a new, socially moderate, fiscally conservative party ~ let’s not bother with a name, we’ll just use the “Mushy Middle” or “Centre Party”  for now.

Remember my political bell curves?


… and …


This new “Centre Party” is, by its very definition, made up of  the swing voters in the “mushy middle,” and it should have a good, solid 10 to 15 of the voting public as its “base,” something, in other words, akin to the NDP.

The Outcome …

Now assume that the Liberals do change how we vote in Canada, and assume further that it’s some sort of “ranked” or “preferential” ballot system. The “Centre Party” is going to get, let’s just say, 15% to 20% of the first place votes but it is, very likely, going to be the most popular second choice for almost all Conservatives and Liberals and for many others, too, and at the end of the election it is likely to be a very strong party in a field that might look something like:

  • Liberals:     26% 1st choice and 15% 2nd choice = 31% of the seats
  • CPC:             24% 1st choice and 15% 2nd choice = 27%of the seats
  • Centre:       18% 1st choice and 55% 2nd choice = 36% of the seats
  • NDP:             16% 1st choice and 12% 2nd choice = 20%of the seats
  • All Others:  16% 1st choice and 3% 2nd choice = 17%of the seats

How it might play out …

The Governor General asks the “Centre Party” leader to form a government because the “Centrists” have the most seats, albeit only enough for a minority; and he, the “Centrist” leader, in turn, offers coalition “partnerships” to both the Conservatives and the Liberals in a government of national unity. The prime minister designate offers the Liberals many of the social policy seats at the new cabinet table while he offers dominance in foreign and defence policy to the CPC. (The “centrists” retain control of the treasury and, of course, of overall policy direction.) He offers each party leader a post as deputy prime minister with government responsibility (“super minister” status) in their respective areas. Both agree. Such an agreement would, I suspect, further split the Liberals. Their left wing MPs and members would likely decamp and move to the “purer” NDP. The Conservatives’ hard right wing will, most likely, stay put, having no credible place to go, but the end result will be four years of good, stable moderate, government and the Centre Party will go into the next election as a favourite over both the left of centre Liberals and right of centre Conservatives, and will, de facto, become “Canada’s natural governing party.”

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

3 thoughts on “Political civil wars

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