Conservatives may need a bit of the old 'progressive'
Does the next Conservative leader need to be seen as at least a little “progressive” on some issues?
What Conservatives should have garnered from the 2019 federal election is that Scheer is a social conservative, was generally considered likeable and, as it turned out, largely viewed as unelectable because of what he was perceived to stand for.
Sure, the narrative that’s since emerged was that Scheer was “untrustworthy” and “unlikeable” because of his insurance broker’s resume and dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship. And the post-election story of his children’s private school tuition paid with party funds widely circulated in what very much seemed part of an effort to force his leadership resignation is now guiding this narrative.
But does anyone beyond those with vested interests in certain Conservative leadership camps think Scheer was seen before and during the campaign as “unlikeable”? Or could it be that far too many Canadians were suspicious that Scheer’s core beliefs — beliefs perfectly acceptable to the Conservative Party of Canada before and during the campaign — would translate into federal governance?
What Conservatives need is soul-searching beyond whether their next leader can be marketable … although that may still be an issue. Conservatives need to ask themselves: How far right is too far right in Canada? What policies are needed to show a “progressive” element appealing to a modern, largely urban country? Where should it compromise to demonstrate it shares existing Canadian values?
These issues have largely gone unaddressed since old Reform-Canadian Alliance formed the CPC, dropping “progressive” from its very name. It’s not a question that’s easily answered.
Many in the party rightly argue that the last thing this country needs is another version of the Liberals from whom Conservatives very much differ on critical issues like the size of government, government intervention and public ownership.
Adding to the dilemma is the CPC is a west-driven party right now. While it did increase its nationwide popular vote by 2.5 per cent to 34.9 per cent in 2019 (from 31.9 per cent in 2015), it actually only increased its popular vote in 194 of the country’s 338 seats — many of them, Western Canada’s 104 seats where the CPC was already registering large margins of victory. There were 144 ridings in this country where there were actually less Conservative votes than in 2015.
With the rise of the #wexit movement as a registered party vowing to run candidates in all 104 Western Canadian seats, the CPC will be sorely tempted to keep leaning to the Western right. It would be a huge mistake for a party than needs to be broader and more diversified in policy.
While campaigns largely centred around opposing the carbon tax worked well for United Conservative Party (UPC) Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe in places where leaders are perceived to be standing up for an economic driver, things quickly get much more complicated on the national stage. (And even in Saskatchewan, one may recall Brad Wall injected significant “progressive” elements into the Sask. Party’s 2007 campaign to court what it called the urban soccer mom vote.)
Instead, Conservatives need to answer the bigger answer: How right is too far right for this party?