The Conservative Party desperately wants to form the Government of Canada. But, Michael Harris writes, it will never achieve its objective as long as it pretends to be an American knock-off:
The Conservative Party of Canada has never really been a new party that came together in a merger. It has always been a dysfunctional hybrid in which the hard right of its Western roots conducted a hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservatives. Peter MacKay’s lingering legacy.
Stephen Harper’s success was more the product of dreadful Liberal scandals and hapless, opportunistic leadership changes, than it was of his skills as a unifier.
Nothing has changed. Pierre Poilievre’s candidacy is an extension of the brand of conservatism currently on display in the United States—a fact-denying populism that has room for every conspiracy theory and grievance, where every authority and institution is painted as the enemy, and guys pissing in the Capitol and wearing Viking horns are lionized—until they’re sent to jail.
The Conservatives have a chance to remake their party:
The entry into the leadership race of progressive candidates like Jean Charest and Patrick Brown gives the Conservatives a chance to rethink the Poilievre camp’s dubious claim that the reason the party has lost three straight federal elections is that it was not Conservative enough. That’s what they said when Harper was defeated. It was not policies like the Barbaric Practices Act, it was how they were rolled out. It was a comms problem.
But they still don't understand that their problem isn't a communications problem. The problem is who they are. This leadership race is all about who they are:
The big story of this leadership race so far is the hardening divide between the two main camps vying for the top job. A source who was there recently told me that two prominent Conservative strategists almost came to blows at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club over the leadership race. A mere anecdote to be sure, but it shows the way this thing is headed, no matter who wins.
If Poilievre prevails, one branch of the CPC will be filled with embittered David Orchards, progressives who will not be able to stomach the party’s stubborn refusal to become more centrist. If Charest or Brown comes out on top, hard-core Harperites will feel betrayed, and may have no way to voice their displeasure but by rallying behind Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party. Under either outcome, the primary purpose of leadership conventions will be scuppered; unifying the party around a single person who can make its collective case to the country.
Events in the United States could have a big impact on Canada’s Conservative leadership race. That country is racing toward a political nervous breakdown. The party that stands four-square behind Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen by corrupt Democrats is paradoxically looking like a big winner in the November mid-terms. Joe Biden looks like a dead man walking every time gas prices go up.
The cause of the nervous breakdown? The surge in Republican fortunes is happening at precisely the same time as the Jan. 6 committee hearings of Congress are documenting a broad, coordinated effort by the Trump White House to retain power, although he soundly lost the 2020 election and knew it. As one judge put it, the proof of the steal put forward by Trump stooges like Rudy Giuliani and John Easton was “a coup in search of a legal theory.”
Will the Conservatives have a nervous breakdown? Stay tuned.