In an essay in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson dissects the recent election and, not surprisingly, concludes that the Conservative party may have been its own worst enemy.
He focuses on three key issues:
- Climate change ~ and he quotes the estimable Lisa Raitt who said that ““It’s a litmus test … Climate change may not be the reason you voted for someone. But it’s the reason you voted against someone”“;
- Immigration and diversity ~ and that, John Ibbitson says is where “the party has done itself enormous harm … [because] … When the Conservatives were last in power, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, now Alberta’s Premier, worked relentlessly and successfully to win over immigrant voters, reminding them that Conservatives, not Liberals, held the same socially and economically conservative views they did. Mr. Harper liked to boast that he was the only conservative leader in the developed world supported by immigrant voters … [but] … the Conservatives torched that bridge during the 2015 campaign by encouraging Canadians to report “barbaric cultural practices” and by mishandling the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian child found on a Turkish beach, with their initial reluctance to take in more Syrian refugees.” During the intervening four years, the Conservatives failed to rebuild those bridges. I don’t agree with Mr Ibbitson that Conservative opposition to illegal migration was a big problem ~ many new Canadians want illegal migrants stopped, too. But the Conservative party needs to be supportive of increased legal, merit-based, colour-blind immigration. When the Liberals say they want 300,000+ new immigrants each year, the Conservatives need to go into the suburbs around Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa and say “that’s not enough, Canada needs 400,000+ new, legal, properly screened immigrants each year so that, by 2100, we will have a population of 100 million“; and
- Social values ~ which, he says, “haunt the Conservatives above all other issues. During the election campaign, Mr. Trudeau repeatedly accused Mr. Scheer of wanting to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion. He also brought up an old speech of Mr. Scheer’s opposing same-sex marriage. As so often in the past, the Liberals accused the Conservatives of being in thrall to the social conservatives within the party, of harbouring some infamous hidden agenda, even though no Conservative government has ever acted on such an agenda.” It doesn’t matter that the Liberals were dishonest. What matters is that:
- Canadians are already inclined to believe the Liberal lies, thanks, in part to people like Brad Trost, and
- Andrew Scheer was unconvincing when he tried do explain his own, personal views.
Mr Ibbitson, correctly, says that “The general consensus is that the Conservatives lost the election because they lost suburban Ontario – specifically the swath of ridings surrounding Toronto, a region called the 905, after its area code … [and, he explains] … Middle-class suburbanites in the 905 tend to vote as a block, and because so many ridings are involved – about 30, depending on how you draw the boundary – the party they choose almost always forms the government. And the 905 has a multiplier effect: The party that does well there does well in other suburban Ontario seats and in the suburban ridings surrounding Vancouver … [looking back] … Mr. Harper won most of the seats in the 905 on his way to a majority-government victory in 2011 … [and then] … Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals did the same in 2015 and repeated the trick on Oct. 21, securing 24 seats to the Conservatives’ six.” Put simply, if Andrew Scheer had been able to reverse those numbers (a net of 18 seats) then the Liberals would have finished with only 139 seats and the Conservatives would also have won 139. If that trend had spread to other suburbs then we might have seen 150+ Conservatives in the House of Commons, including Lisa Raitt, against only 125 or so Liberals.
A lot of this is ground I have been ploughing ever since I started this blog. The Conservative Party has had a good, solid base during the 21st-century and conservative parties have captured between 29% and 39% of the popular vote in every election. But only Stephen Harper was able to capture at least a plurality of seats in three elections (2006, 2008 and 2011). In the other four elections in this century (2000, 2004, 2015 and 2019) the Liberals (with 20% (Michael Ignatieff in 2011) to 40% (Jean Chrétien in 2000) of the vote) earned the right to govern. The winning difference was, in each case, the votes in the socially moderate, environmentally conscious, ethnically diverse and economically conservative suburbs. In 2019 neither the Conservative platform nor the Conservative leader was able to persuade those suburban voters that the CPC, not the LPC was the better political choice for them … not even when the LPC was led by a man who wore blackface and was convicted, twice, of violating Parliament’s own ethical standards. In short, the Conservative Party didn’t do what it needed to do.
But, as David Akin points out there were more problems than either the platform or the leader. he says that “those Conservatives who believe that a mere switch in leaders will vanquish the Liberal foe will likely want to face some other realities, the most important one being that the much-vaunted ‘ground game’ that helped propel Conservative electoral machines from 2006 through to 2015 has rusted and is in dire need of an overhaul.” He gives some examples of technical, tactical problems that hurt the CPC, especially in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
The Conservative people with whom John Ibbitson spoke when preparing his essay have different views on what the PCP needs to do next … but most seem to agree that it must address climate policy, immigration and diversity and social values. Some suggest the Party needs to become more progressive while others want it to be more libertarian. I am, personally, more inclined towards the libertarian view but I suspect that I am in a minority in that regard and Canadians, more broadly, including those in the GTA and the 905 belt, favour bigger, more active governments. I believe that, for the foreseeable future, Conservatives are much more likely to give Canada good government than are Liberals so in order to serve Canadians better the CPC needs to adopt policies and choose leaders who can win elections.