Frank Graves and Michael Valpy have the numbers that tell what has happened to the Conservative Party. They write:
EKOS Research found that four years ago, there was a 10-percentage-point gap between Liberals and Conservatives who selected climate change as the top issue of political concern. That gap is now 46 percentage points.
More than 90 per cent of Canadians who identify with the political centre-left, which is 65 per cent of adult citizens, think that Canada now has a climate emergency (they don’t believe that it’s coming, but that it’s here now.) For people who identify as Conservative or People’s Party supporters, the figure is less than 30 per cent. Four years ago, there was a 20-percentage-point gap between Liberals and Conservatives on trust in science. That exploded to a 40 per cent gap following the last election.
Since 2012, the incidence of Conservative voters who think Canada is admitting “too many” visible minorities as immigrants has swollen from 47 per cent to 70 per cent . Meanwhile, the corresponding incidence of Liberals agreeing there are too many has dropped from 35 to 15 per cent. A modest 12 per cent gap has also expanded to a massive 55 per cent gap.
We are, to put it simply, becoming a much more tribal nation. As in the U.S. and UK, compromise is getting harder to find:
At the opening of the 21st century, almost 50 per cent of Canadian voters said they were neither small-L liberals nor small-C conservatives. Today, those saying “neither” are less than half of what they were 20 years ago—everyone is picking sides.
It means the ability to find centre terrain on the most divisive issues of the day is disappearing. The only path forward for those who win electoral power is to say, “Sorry, you’re wrong, we’re right.” When the gap is this egregious, you have to make choices, producing the predictable toxic backlash among the losers. On climate change, that’s what we see in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and among working class males of all ages with less than university education.
This is not unique to Canada. It’s a new feature of western democracy. You can hear it in post-Brexit England (“Take back control”), in Trump America (“Make America Great Again”), and now echoing in Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole’s proclamation that, with him at the party helm, the Conservatives will “take back our great country.”
So we face an ugly and mean future. One of the reasons for that tragedy is that the Conservative Party is now an ugly and mean party.