Geoffrey Stevens, former national editor and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, former Ottawa correspondent for Time magazine, and former managing editor of Maclean’s magazine, who now teaches at Wilfred Laurier University, has written a provocative column for the Waterloo Region Record in which he say that “If the federal Conservatives had their wits about them they would do what the Royal Navy did back in the age of sail when it sent forth “press gangs” to forcibly conscript — or “impress” — seafaring men to crew its warships … [and] … They would send a press gang off to Stornoway to confront their interim leader Rona Ambrose and to beg, cajole and implore (though perhaps not physically force) her to stand as a candidate next May when the party replaces the departed Stephen Harper. The press gang should not be allowed to take No for an answer.” Now, as Professor Stevens notes, Ms Ambrose has said “No,” to previous entreaties but, in my opinion, he makes several good points:
- “In a word, Ambrose is the best thing that has happened to the Conservatives since they fell from power 14 months ago;
- At 47, the Alberta MP has 12 years’ experience in Parliament;
- She held several cabinet portfolios, including environment, in the Harper governments;
- As interim leader, she has held her unruly caucus together in the House, knowing when to hold firm and when to compromise;
- In her demeanour, she stays calm under stress;
- She tries with some success to hold the government to account without being strident or shrill about it; [and]
- She has grown in the job. After more than a year, she presents the poise of real leader, no longer an emergency fill-in.“
I have a lot of sympathy for that position. We, Conservatives, need a moderate leader who can keep a sometimes fractious coalition together and add new adherents to it. As I have pointed out before, we need to shift millions of votes away from Justin Trudeau, some back to us and some back to the NDP, by continuing to stress how his government is making Canada weaker and, at the same time, more expensive for ordinary, working Canadian families, and by offering those same millions of Canadians attractive, moderate fiscal, social and foreign polices that will appeal to most of the 70% of of Canadian voters who can be described as centrist and, therefore, liable to swing towards either the Conservatives or the Liberal Party.
First, we need broadly acceptable and attractive policy positions on a range of issues … and that means that we cannot pander to either of our “extreme’ wings: neither the remaining Red Tories nor the busybody social conservatives.
Second, we need someone who is attractive and can out-campaign Justin Trudeau … someone who is, pretty clearly, ready for high office, now, as he was not and still is not.
Thirdly we need someone who can communicate our views and her (or his) personal “charm” to tens of millions of Canadians in both official languages.* Prime Minister Trudeau demonstrated to us that “nice,” gets votes, “nice” works, It’s a lesson we cannot ignore.
I think we have several good candidates in the race, now, but I’m not certain that any of them will give us all three things we need, and I’m quite certain that some will not be able to win anything at all. But, a report is the Toronto Sun says that “None of those in the running to take the helm of Canada’s Conservative Party sit all that well with the nation’s voters, according to a new Forum Research poll … [and] … Of those surveyed, 53% stated they would prefer “someone else” than any of the 14 leadership hopefuls. Half of Conservative Party supporters felt the same.” Now it may be, as the Sun report suggests, that “Last spring, a Forum poll found that the majority Conservative voters would, if there were an impending election, support the candidacy of businessman and TV personality Kevin O’Leary. That would likely hold true today … [and] … “We saw it with the (Donald) Trump thing, the attractiveness of the non-politician,” said [Forum Research president Lorne] Bozinoff. “Kevin O’Leary has a national following … So I think he would be an attractive candidate,” but it may be equally true that a more established, bettwr known political leader would also fare much better.
Rumour has it that several Conservative strategists saw the outcome of the 2015 election as indicating that:
- The fiscally prudent and socially moderate Harper Conservatives remain popular and have a good, solid base of support ~ 30% of voters ~ upon which to rebuild; but
- Justin Trudeau would, very likely, be a two term prime minister.
That appears to have told some Conservatives to “sit out” the 2017 leadership contest which would, in effect, be electing another “interim” leader who would fight and lose the 2019 election and then make way for someone who would be prime minister after the second Trudeau government left office.
But, now, after only a year in office, it looks to many observers, including veteran observers like Geoffrey Stevens, that Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals have feet of clay and that the whole, national Liberal brand is, thanks in large part to Kathleen Wynne, in trouble, as is the whole left wing of the political spectrum, thanks to e.g. Rachel Notley and others.
Thus it may well be that, in 2017, the CPC will elect both its leader and the next prime minister of Canada, and the question must be: is that one of these …
… or is it time for the Party establishment to step back and rethink the nature of the race and the stakes and “press” Ms Ambrose into service?
Who, Conservatives must, and Canadians will ask themselves, is best prepared to lead Canada in the 2020s and work with leaders like President elect Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May and new leaders in e.g. France and, perhaps, Germany and in Asia, too? With whom, Conservatives and Canadians need to ask, will we entrust the nations finances and it defences?
Choices, choices … one of the herd? an outsider, a non-politician? or an established, stable, proven leader?
* Not, perhaps, with the fluency of a Brian Mulroney or even a Stephen Harper but about as good as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in English. We are now at the point where almost as many Canadians have neither English nor French as their first language as have French as their first language. Demographics, someone said, is destiny, and the notion of a functionally bilingual country, if it was ever anything more than a pipe-dream, is dead.