Andrew MacDougall, a senior public relations consultant in London (the big, British London, not London, Ontario) and a former head of PR in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s PMO, has penned an important opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, that I really hope the high-foreheads in the Conservative Party‘s HQ all read and take to heart.
First, he makes the points that I have been making over and over and over again:
- The CPC must preserve its base in Western Canada and in rural and small-town Ontario, which includes a fair. number of social conservatives; but
- While the Liberals can govern without the prairies, simple arithmetic proves, without a shadow of a doubt, the Conservatives cannot win without winning in suburban Greater Vancouver and in the bigger suburban Greater Toronto and South-Western Ontario region. It’s not a matter of fairness; in fact, the Conservatives already benefit from the fact ~ and it is an undeniable fact ~ that rural and small-town regions are over-represented in parliament; and
- The voters in the “must-win” suburban seats are socially moderate folks who worry about “pocketbook” issues.
He gets to the real meat of his point, when he says (and I agree 100%) that: “The party needs to again grow in multicultural suburban Canada … [and] … This is where Mr. Sloan’s xenophobic comments are so singularly unhelpful. Not only does it turn off Canadians from all backgrounds, including social conservatives, it also shields the government from legitimate criticism from the opposition over its uneven response to the coronavirus. No good Conservative should want his rhetoric spoken in their name – and yet, here we are, with the party’s top politicians seemingly content to ignore the issue.“
First I want the Conservative Party‘s political leadership …
… starting with Andrew Scheer and including leadership candidates Leslyn Lewis, Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole to publicly and forcefully disavow Mr Sloan’s comments as being unCanadian and unConservative; and
Second, I want the Party establishment …
… including e.g. Conservative Fund Director Senator Linda Frum, Party President Scott Lamb, and Leadership Election Organizing Committee member Lisa Raitt to find a way to disqualify Mr Sloan, publicly, before he can quit the race.
The second point, firing Mr Sloan, rather than encouraging him to resign, matters because the Party needs to be and to be seen to be in the political centre, where most of those suburban voters are found.
A few days ago I was watching an interview (from the Hoover Institution) with one of America’s leading right-wing commentators. “America,” he said ~ remember this is hard-right fellow, a real bête noir of the progressive left ~ “is a centre-right country.” Bingo! I said to myself, and that’s why your guy is in the White House, that’s why you control the Senate, that’s why your candidate is likely to win in 2020 and 2024 and, again, in 2028. That right-wing Ameican commentator actually understands that America is, politically, a centrist nation that for reasons of (mostly 20th century) history and circumstance is, for now, skewed, somewhat to the right ~ towards political conservatism.
What Canadian Conservatives must understand is that Canada is different. Canada is also a centrist nation but it skewed slightly towards the left. I’m not going to bore you with why I believe those two charts represent a political truth, except to say that the Great Depression (1929 and on) had a profound effect on both countries ~ more, I suspect, than did two world wars and the Cold War (1945 to 1990), with its implicit threat fo nuclear annihilation, which was, I think, a far more real threat to humanity’s existence than is global climate change.
The Conservative problem is, quite simply, how to win most of the votes in their base (not too hard) and enough in the suburbs, too …
.. recognizing that the voters in the suburbs are NOT social conservatives, they are moderates, they are, in increasingly large numbers, members of visible minorities, especially families with roots in East and South and South-East Asia. They are Dr Tam’s people. Stephen Harper, with a huge assist from Jason Kenney, won their trust and their votes in 2011; they are NOT ‘natural’ Liberals. Their votes have and can, again, swing between the Liberals and the Conservatives … IF the Conservatives disavow the sort of politics that Derek Sloan appears to want to practice.
I do not believe that those suburban voters will elect Conservative candidates led by Dr Lewis just because she’s black. Quite frankly, in some ridings stretching from Richmond, BC through Brampton and all the way to suburban Montreal, it’s hard to get elected if one is not “ethnic.” Peter MacKay will not fare any better just because he has a lot of insider, CPC, support. Abd Erin O’Toole cannot win just by being. a “true blue” Conservative.
The Conservative Party, in parliament, is responding well to the COVID-129 crisis. It is offering solid, sensible, helpful proposals to make the national government’s response better. But, let’s be honest, the Trudeau regime is winning the PR battles, hands down. How much borrowed money (which will have to be repaid by taxpayers and their children and grandchildren) is being thrown at the problem is all that a generally uncritical press corps wants to hear. The CPC managed to lose the war for parliamentary oversight because the media painted it as an attempt to overthrow the elected government by trickery rather than protecting the democratic interests of Canadians. Perceptions matter and the media plays a HUGE role in creating perceptions.
The Conservatives are being beaten, again, in and by the media because Mr Scheer has not expelled Mr Sloan from the caucus for the unpardonable sin of being dumb and then doubling down on it. I don’t think Mr Sloan is a misogynist or a racist, but he tried and failed to play a cheap political stunt. There may be many reasons to criticize Dr Tam’s performance but to insinuate that she is an agent of the Chinese government goes too far beyond the bounds of decent criticism. There are plenty of reasons to question how and why Xi Jinping and China, writ large, ‘managed’ the novel coronavirus crisis as he and it did, and there are also good reasons to wonder about how and why the World Health Organization responded as it did, and I think one can even make a case for strategic political chicanery on one side ⇒ and partisan political toadying on the other ⇐ but to try to tie Dr Tam to either simply beggars the imagination. Canadians will not buy it.
“The only test for the next leader of the Conservative Party should be how well he or she can grow the movement,” Mr MacDougall writes. I would have said that the only true test for the next CPC leaders is how well he can bring better government to Canada, but that’s a quibble. Then he says “That’s why Mr. MacKay and Mr. O’Toole should flash some steel and cut Mr. Sloan and any like-minded support out of their plans; they deserve no chits in a future opposition or government. And if that means one has to drop out to enable the other to get over the line as leader, then so be it. It will be far easier to bring any angry or disappointed members along in the wake of a deal than it will be to grow the party should it remain silent in the face of Mr. Sloan’s provocations … [and, he suggests that] … Mr. MacKay has a history of doing deals that promote the greater good of the Conservative Party. He should negotiate another one now. Doing so would go a long way toward ridding the party of its most noxious problem.“
My suggestion goes a bit father:
- First, Ms Raitt et al must disqualify Mr Sloan as a leadership candidate. I don’t care what tenuous reasoning they might have to use. I would prefer that they are honest and say “we have decided that Mr Sloan has, by his comments and subsequent failure to disavow them, disqualified himself,” but they can make up whatever excuse they want;
- Second, as an almost final act, Andrew Scheer should expel Derek Sloan from the CPC caucus. He should be made to sit as an independent. It is up to the good voters of the Eastern Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox & Addington to decide if he sits in parliament or not, but Mr Scheer can and should decide that he cannot sit there as a Conservative;
- Third, Mr Scheer and the Conservative Party leadership should, quickly, rewrite the rules and elect a new leader ~ NOT an interim leader ~ from within the ranks of currently sitting Conservative MPs. My guess is that Erin O’Toole will win easily. I recognize that’s a HUGE sacrifice for Peter MacKay and his (many) supporters but the goal must be to bring good government to Canadians and that must transcend individual ambitions; and
- Fourth, as soon as that is done, Dr Lewis and Mr MacKay should, publicly, announce that they will both run for parliament in their home ridings in the next federal election as proud members of the O’Toole team. They both have plenty of time to organize ‘next time’ leadership campaigns, as do many other CPC MPs and some newcomers, too. They can both change their minds, later on, but for now, until after the next election both need to stand steady and foursquare behind the new leader.
I believe that nothing less than the future of the Conservative Party is at stake. As Mr MacDougall said, Peter MacKay has done a deal, before, to advance the cause of the conservative movement in a generally progressive country. he needs to step up, again, and do what’s best for Canada. When, not if the costs of Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis are counted, I believe that Canadians will turn, again, to look for someone to clean up another Liberal fiscal mess. Traditionally they have trusted Conservative leaders …
… because they believed that those Conservative leaders reflected their values. IF Canadians lose that trust, if they come to believe that the Conservative Party is in the hands of people who do not reflect them and their values then we will have a return to the Chrétien era but we will have ten more years of Justin. Trudeau and I’m not sure Canada can survive that.
Andrew MacDougall is right: the Conservative Party has a problem. It’s a big problem. but the solution, I think, lies in the hands of a few people, probably less than a dozen or so, overall. How those people approach the problem may decide the fate of the conservative movement in Canada for decades. The nation’s future is at stake and young Canadians are watching, now. They are a diverse lot with pretty solid values. Old fogeys like me don’t matter very much, certainly not for much longer. IF the Conservative party really ants to being good (at last better) government to Canada then it needs to reflect Canadians’ values. Does it?