I a column in the Globe and Mail, commenting on the cabinet shuffle, John Ibbitson says that “The second problem* is, for Liberals, chronic. Mr. Trudeau hopes to hold and, if possible, expand his beachhead of four Alberta MPs. Instead, thanks to expulsions and shuffles, he risks losing that toehold … [and] … With the NDP struggling to remain relevant in Quebec, the next election could reveal an old and not-very-healthy situation in which the Conservatives own the Prairies and B.C. outside the lower mainland, the Liberals dominate in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and the two parties fight for control of Greater Toronto and Vancouver … [therefore] … As it was for the father, so too might it be for the son.“
I am not sure this split is as “not-very-healthy” as Mr Ibbitson says. In fact, referring yet again to the “Old Canada, New Canada” argument that Professor Michael Bliss made more than 15 years ago, it may be the “new normal.” The Liberals may very well be the party of “Old Canada” and the Conservatives may have a strong hold on large parts of “New Canada.” In the long term that may be a great place for the Conservatives to be IF they can reach out to all those voters in Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver.
Of course the CPC does not want a repeat of 2015 when they were (are) completely shut out of Atlantic Canada, nor of 1980 when the Conservatives got only one of Quebec’s 75 seats. But it may be that the reasonable expectation is that the Conservatives can have only 20± of the 110 seats in “Old Canada” (Quebec and Atlantic Canada) and, therefore, must earn 150± from the 228 seats in “New Canada” ~ that’s 65% of the seats, it’s not at all impossible but it means that the Conservative (who have 85+ seats in “New Canada”) must add another 65+ and they are almost all going to have to be found in urban and suburban ridings which means that “reaching out” is even more important.
I will not belabour the point, but “reaching out” means that many Conservatives must put a little water in their ideological wine. Every few years a lot of people will vote for the Conservatives just because they are tired of the Liberals; in many cases that’s what happened in 2015 … but in reverse. But that wasn’t all that happened in 2015: in fact Justin Trudeau energized, even inspired millions, literally, of new voters … Andrew Scheer has to do something similar in 2019: he needs to get those people back ton the polls but he needs to convince at least half of them to switch their vote away from the Liberals (and a lot of people should be suffering from buyer’s remorse by 2019) and towards the Conservatives. Stephen Harper did it in 2011, and the 166 seats he won in 2011 would be almost enough for a majority in 2019. So it can be done with a campaign that resonates with rural, small town and suburban voters and in a few urban ridings, too.
That doesn’t mean that the Conservatives need to become a pale imitation of the Liberals. In fact that would be the worst thing to do, the Conservatives need to reaffirm their core fiscal and social values, not dilute or weaken them. Those values include equality of opportunity, respect for the rule of law, moderation, sound management of the public’s money and principled policies. Those values will resonate with millions of Canadians when they are clearly expressed.