It was a night that would make the Iowa Democrats blush. Canada’s Conservative Party held a nomination powwow to pick the next leader, but thousands of ballots were slashed by machines that were designed to open the envelopes. Tories did not know who the victor was until around 2 a.m. They failed to prove their competence to the electorate and the ability to pick a fresh face to lead the Official Opposition. While the Tories did not go with a key relic from the days of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the party went full steam ahead with a politician who will not provide any new ideas or substance on issues pressing Canada. After making the mistake of not moving ahead with Maxime Bernier a couple of years ago, the Conservatives missed the boat on an outsider who could possibly have taken Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the woodshed on policy — identity or otherwise. Instead, the Great White North will be given Harper-lite, should Erin O’Toole win 33% of the vote.
Erin O’Toole: A Primer
Erin O’Toole could be described as one of those old-stock Canadians that Harper alluded to in the 2015 general election. His dad was a member of the Provincial Parliament in Ontario. O’Toole served in the Royal Canadian Air Force for 12 years, graduated from law school, and entered politics in 2012 to succeed Bev Oda (the woman who charged taxpayers $12 for a glass of orange juice). He was appointed minister of veterans affairs, picked as the official opposition critic for foreign affairs, and sought the interim leadership when Harper stepped down as party chief. O’Toole has made all the right moves, but has he contributed to the overall conservative movement in a meaningful way?
Status Quo or Gamechanger
O’Toole would have probably been a celebrated conservative prime minister 20 or 30 years ago. He is a veteran, an attorney, and has been a member of parliament for eight years. But voters — left or right — are no longer interested in vague allusions to a political philosophy and a CV that seems designed to enter public service. Today’s voter does not want to swap one face for another and differ on trivial matters.
His leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada consisted of a “True Blue Conservative” 50-page platform that aimed at attracting “middle-class suburban voters, women, and new Canadians.” O’Toole promised to focus on conservative principles, such as creating a fiscal stability plan, reversing some of the prime minister’s budget-busting policies, and criminalizing the blockading of railways and ports.
An O’Toole party and potential government could be summarized as cutting the income tax rate by 0.012%. It will not do much to change Ottawa or improve the lives of taxpayers, but it would be a concept to pay lip service to fiscal conservatism. The Tories think playing it safe with O’Toole would be enough to oust Trudeau from 24 Sussex Drive. While Trudeau is somewhat vulnerable due to a plethora of scandals, he is still popular enough to secure re-election. He could regain some of his lost support if he gets his new and exorbitant spending plans approved in the House of Commons. The Conservatives might be relying too much on the WE Charity debacle and voters’ interest in the controversy, believing it will be enough to kick him to the curb.
Of course, in Canada, there is no accounting for the public’s taste. Why have the Ontario Liberals, for example, stayed in power for 15 years, despite multi-billion-dollar scandals and destruction?
Leslyn Lewis: A Missed Opportunity?
The Conservatives could have shaken up the party by choosing an authentic outsider: Leslyn Lewis.
Lewis has practiced law for 20 years, but she has zero political experience, outside of running as a replacement candidate in the Greater Toronto Area in the 2015 federal election. She made history when she became the first minority woman to run for the Conservative Party leadership as Lewis is half-Jamaican and half-Indian. This would have made national headlines for months in the Canadian press if she had run for the Liberal Party. But journalists in the Great White North were more fixated on Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) south of the border, according to comparisons of the media’s coverage of the two women.
She had the raw votes during the recent leadership race, but not the points. In Canada, the party-nomination process uses a ranked ballot system rather than tallying the roughly 175,000 votes. A lot of her support came from Western Canada, particularly Saskatchewan.
Although Lewis appealed to the social conservative side of the party’s base, her approach to the issues was more subtle, benign, and open-minded. For anyone who has monitored Canadian politics, social conservatives are typically abrasive and incendiary, and they alienate two-thirds of the country after uttering their first word.
The Lewis campaign ran on an agenda of opposing the carbon tax, ending foreign aid for abortion, repealing the Grits’ firearms ban, canceling Canada’s participation in the U.N. Global Compact on Migration, and allowing free votes on conscience issues. Her positions were ostensibly popular in the base, so this could push her to run for a seat on Parliament Hill when the next election is called.
Cult of Personality
Does O’Toole have the personality to beat Trudeau? Nobody in Canadian politics does. Trudeau has a knack for saying the right things in the best tone possible, sending a tingle up the legs of the Fourth Estate, particularly the taxpayer-funded CBC. All he needs to do is bribe Canadians with their money to earn another minority or majority government. Lewis might have been the person equipped, at least on an identity-politics level, to take on Trudeau. Not only were her proposals enough to possibly sway independents but also she checks the intersectional boxes. Trudeau, on the other hand, wore blackface and brownface multiple times. He has also committed the cardinal sin of being a straight white male, which is paramount to anything else in the neoteric political arena. Would Lewis have been as celebrated as Senator Harris, or would she be called all sorts of names for not adhering to leftist dogma? No matter what, we all know O’Toole will be admonished for being another straight white male and — gasp! — a Conservative!
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