Canada Catchup: Conservatives' Revolutionary Blues

A Party, And Movement, Explained

What does the Canadian Conservative/conservative movement want to do? What is the point of the Canadian right?

It's a question that people like to ask, mostly because Erin O'Toole spends all of his time saying what he opposes. He opposes a carbon tax, but he isn't a climate denier or anything, no no - he'll have a "plan" in time. He opposes the government's amount of cumulative spending on COVID relief, but cannot say what should have been done instead. He won the leadership of the Conservative Party with the votes of, and explicit backing from, social conservatives, and while he is himself not a raging homophobe or anti-abortionist, he is beholden to them - while trying to keep his moderate flank satisfied on the issue.

O'Toole is suffering from a syndrome afflicting much of the democratic world - people generally believe that COVID has been handled pretty well, and given that, they're not looking to get rid of Justin Trudeau. It's why National got wiped out in New Zealand, why the right got boat raced in Western Australia, and it's why Trump didn't do too badly - at least, compared to how terribly he did handle the crisis. It's a specific benefit of the doubt for this crisis because this crisis is unforeseen and deemed to be unforeseeable. Rightly or wrongly, nobody is blaming Trudeau for not having a perfect plan in place for a once-in-a-century pandemic. And so, O'Toole flounders.

The problem with that analysis is it starts and ends with COVID, which is true enough. The Tories actual problem is they aren't within 20% of the Liberals in any seat in Brampton right now, they're not within 10% anywhere in Mississauga, and they're down double digits in both Burlington and Milton - even before the polling hit they're taking. You can't win government without 2 Bramptons, 3 Mississaugas, and probably all four of the Oakville-Burlington-Milton quad of seats. The Tories are electoral cyanide to the suburbs right now, as I've written about ever since the 2019 election. Their path forward, such as it exists, is narrow to the point of non-existent, unless they're willing to elect a legitimate social moderate as leader - which their membership won't do, clearly.

The problem the Conservative Party has is simple - they're radicals trying to pretend they're not. This Tory party is actually the party that Paul Martin spent two elections accusing of a secret agenda, because O'Toole is unable and unwilling to do what Stephen Harper did and slap down his right flank. Jason Kenney is suffering from this as well, as was Doug Ford, at least until the pandemic - there is a conservative policy agenda, one that you would be described as fairly radical. The problem, the voters don't want it.

Doug Ford spent much of his 2019 trying to implement a suite of changes to how Government works, attacking teaching unions, parents of autistic children, the City Of Toronto, and otherwise making a ton of cuts to funding allocations, and his polls were in the toilet. Jason Kenney wants to do all the austerity, and a combination of overreliance on promoting oil and gas, environmental rollbacks, and MLAs going south for COVID holidays despite an official travel advisory against such trips has him in a steep hole as of now.

The Conservative Party of Canada, and modern Canadian conservatism writ large, are about the comfort of cultural conservatives above all else. Jason Kenney has led a weeks long war against a Netflix show for kids because, despite the right's professed love for free speech, the idea of Netflix having a show that suggests oil is bad makes everyone recoil. It is easier to talk about that than the fact that Kenney is a confessed homophobe who cut his teeth in politics in anti-LGBT politics down south, and voted against gay marriage as an MP in 2006. It's easier to talk about how the Tories have no ideas than to realize that Andrew Scheer - a man who in theory was close to becoming Prime Minister of Canada - is posting memes saying Canada's environmental policy shouldn't matter because of China on Twitter.

The Conservatives want to both be tougher on China while somehow securing the release of the two Canadians held, and on trial, in China. How that would work I have legitimately no idea, nor do they, but at times they seem to suggest that we should do a prisoner swap for the Huawei executive whose arrest started this crisis. But instead of reckoning with the fact that many in Conservative intelligencia seem willing to let hostage takers get their goal without thinking of the obvious consequences, we just shrug. O'Toole leads a party, and an intellectual movement, full of people who get visibly uncomfortable by public displays of affection from a gay couple, who think abortion is murder, and who think climate change is either not real, or not our problem. But of course, admit any of that, and your party is dead, so you stand for nothing.

The Canadian Tories are often described as a driftless party, aimlessly floating to another election defeat. They're not - they're dangerous revolutionaries, who hate people like me, both for my liberal views and the greater sin of being gay. By prioritizing cultural revolution, they've locked in an ever increasingly loyal base in the Prairies, and locked themselves out of power until they change their ways. Must be a bad case of those Revolution Blues.