The alt-right members are dragging the party into the Repugnican side of politics: an authoritarian, pseudo-Christian, racist, and separatist/libertarian ideology. The elect-then-dump-’em routine would be comical if it weren’t scary because one day these neo-fascists might become the government. And, seeing the disaster of Trump’s four years when the alt-right had power, it scares the crap out of me that it could happen here.
Couldn’t it? Consider that the far-right organizer of the trucker’s pro-pandemic, anti-government protest, Tamara Lich, called on the party to dump O’Toole and ‘end his political career.” And the party did so, shortly after her tweet (73 out of 118 caucus members voting to dump him). The uber-right Linda Slobodian in the Western Standard also called on Conservatives to dump O’Toole earlier this month, noting:
A while back a Conservative insider confided that O’Toole’s demise was imminent and would result from the “death of a thousand cuts.” All self-inflicted wounds due to his flip-flopping on major issues like the carbon tax and gun control.
And the Cons listened to those voices. The knives came out.
Flipping leaders has become a part of the continuing dumpster fire that is the federal Conservative party. Not that the provincial Cons are any better, ethically, but they generally don’t dump their leaders with the frequency the federal party does. You can fill pages of “where are they now” websites with the Conservative leaders elected then ousted since Brian Mulroney left in ’93 (I count eleven including the interim leaders; a new one roughly every three years).
But, as Jen Gerson wrote in Macleans, the timing could not have been worse for the party:
And so they decided to oust him at the moment of maximum chaos, when a manifestation of inchoate anger at long-running—and sometimes illogical—COVID restrictions has descended on the capital, along with a handful of Confederate-flag and swastika waving extremists. Great timing, everyone.
She added, “The Conservative Party is now confronted with a full-blown crisis of identity, and none of the incentives bend toward moderation.” And she concludes by asking, “…can we trust a party of sh–posters to stay rational and sensible in the face of an exhausted, angry and increasingly polarized electorate? Nothing about how this party has behaved in recent days gives me hope that this caucus is as clever or politically savvy as it imagines itself to be.”
The caucus could have demanded he set out coherent policies, that he focus on specific issues, improve rapport with the base, that he work on building party unity and engagement, and plan for the next election. Instead, they simply kicked O’Toole out the door so they have to start all over again. It’s like playing snakes and ladders.
The last of the Conservative leaders I had any real respect for was Joe Clark, way back in 2003. Still, I thought O’Toole was a good person and honest, even while I also thought his policies vapid and his leadership weak. But he was the best choice to keep moderate Canadian conservatives in a party that has become increasingly rightwing and radical (the so-called social conservatives, aka the alt-right) since Harper took it over in 2003.*
Paul Wells recently wrote in Macleans, that,
Why did O’Toole’s party give up on him? Lots of reasons, but mostly they decided they couldn’t find any beliefs in him. It’s a cliché that candidates for the leadership of conservative parties tack hard right, before returning to the centre for the election that follows. One guy who worked for Mitt Romney called it the “Etch-a-Sketch” strategy. O’Toole showed it’s possible to be too blatant. Running against carbon taxes, then proposing carbon taxes while pretending you aren’t, is not a confidence-building path. Running as Derek Sloan’s protector and then turfing him raised similar questions.
Sloan was a despicable alt-right challenger for the party leadership against O’Toole, and he exposed the extremism that has been bubbling just below the surface since the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Reform Party. Turfing Sloan from caucus was long overdue, but O’Toole waffled when he should have acted. But that’s the story of his tenure as leader in one phrase.
Sloan, though, was just a symptom of the greater problem: the increasing presence of the far-right in the party. As Kelly McParland wrote in the National Post, moderates and the radicals are getting further and further apart, with little common ground left between them:
The two sides are distinct: one wants a “true blue” party that resents gun laws, gets queasy when talk turns to gender or sexual preference, hates the carbon tax and thinks lockdowns and vaccine passports are a threat to their “freedom,” rather than the result of overwhelmed authorities trying desperately to end a pandemic they still don’t fully understand. The other is appalled at the stupidity of the mistakes that have been made, alarmed at the burgeoning debt and repelled by the ineptitude of Ottawa, but still believes there’s more to be gained by seeking consensus, promoting moderation and concentrating on practical realities.
I liked the “Etch-a-Sketch” analogy, above. O’Toole was not the first party leader to change his policies after an election and the Cons are not alone in that. Sometimes the realities of governing can make campaign promises moot or impossible to honour. But it hasn’t helped that none of the Conservative’s recent leaders have come up with a credible platform for dealing with the pressing issues: climate change, domestic terrorism, the economy, housing, aboriginal issues, Western separatists… not even when they were in power under Harper. And since then, they’ve just played whack-a-mole, swatting at Liberal or NDP policies.
O’Toole’s disappearance from the political stage won’t change anything, aside from opening the door wider for the alt-right to take over the party and lead the nation into divisive, toxic politics much like those that have poisoned the USA. I’m sure the delegates who voted to turf him did it precisely because of that. After all, once O’Toole was out, the caucus elected as interim leader Candice Bergen, who recently defended anti-mandate (aka alt-right, pro-pandemic) protesters and has previously been criticized for wearing a MAGA hat. A facepalm moment for the party’s remaining moderates.
I expect that leading the next cavalcade of candidates for the leadership will be the reptilian Pierre Poilievre, described in the Globe and Mail as “underhanded and unscrupulous, a polarizer who will go as low as a crocodile if it suits his needs.” He recently tweeted an attack against what he called “vaccine vendettas,” which gained him plaudits from the party’s alt-right MPs. **
Even the rightwing NatPost is leery of Poilivere, with McParland calling him, “…acerbic, aggressive, take-no-prisoners finance critic, whose combative approach to Parliament and skill at skewering Liberals has won him considerable favour among frustrated right-wingers. Poilievre would certainly be more entertaining than O’Toole or any other recent Conservative leader, but if voters thought Harper was a bit chilly and forbidding, wait until they get a load of Poilievre.”
As amusing as it is to watch the party eat its own, year after year, I remain troubled that it bodes ill for the nation when their caucus gets filled with the toxic right and the moderates back away. Canada needs conservative views to balance the centrist and left views of the other parties; we need a diversity of credible views on how to govern; but we do not need anything from the alt-right here.
* To be fair, I liked Clark in both his tenures as party leader, and both John Diefenbaker and Robert Stanfield before him. I liked Kim Campbell, too, and thought Jean Charest was okay. They were all honest and honourable. But I greatly disliked Brian Mulroney and detested Stephen Harper, who brought the far right into the Conservative fold when the party amalgamated with the Reform Party in late ’03. Since then the party has become too much like the Repugnicans in the USA for my taste.
** Wells also wrote:
The people who donate to the Conservative Party of Canada and volunteer for it watch Fox News and read Facebook. Donald Trump’s endorsement of a so-called “truckers’ convoy” inspired by the Capital Hill riot of Jan. 6, 2020 was a genuinely exciting moment for a lot of people in today’s Conservative movement. Including, I’m entirely sure, some part of the party’s national caucus.