The Canada Day Convoy A Crisis Of Conservatism
A Reflection On Convoys And Cranks
“There'll be no caving in, no suicide, no, no pills and gin./I hear your voice again, and it stirs me like a pealing bell/Echoes by everything and everywhere/By every fraught fiber in every cell/Here I'm telling you you're not the only one”
Given it is Canada Day as I am writing this, it should be unsurprising to anyone who knows me that this includes me thinking about Canadian music, one of our greatest successes as a country being the great variety of musicians and talents to come out of this country.
Those lyrics are from Cathedral Bells, a Hey Rosetta song that resonated with my suicidal self throughout my youth, and they’re currently playing as I write this, and as I think of the second Convoy – the functionally meaningless band of a few protesters who came to Ottawa again, much like an old rock band trying to release a new album twenty years later, to try and find the magic now lost. And the problem is, the Convoy 2.0 was neither small enough to be safely ignored nor big enough to constitute a true populist movement, and this is where the Conservative Party, and the broader conservative movement, is stuck.
For whatever you think of this fact, Justin Trudeau’s brand of liberalism is very easy to distill into a pithy quote. It’s big city, urban, Central Canadian elitism, for good or for ill. Trudeau is a social liberal who never fails to tell you how socially liberal he is, from his pandering on issues of racial equality (taking a knee during Black Lives Matter protests) to women’s equality (“It’s 2015”, on why he had a gender neutral cabinet) to his recent statements on abortion (as his government doesn’t commit to directly spending federal funds on the Fredericton clinic). I don’t say this to shit on the Liberals, but they are a government whose followthrough is not always as strong as their words.
On the other hand, what is the modern Conservative Party for? Freedom, we hear, but not for gay people to be free of harassment in the form of conversion therapy, or for trans people to get legal protections, or Muslim Canadians to be free from discrimination, or for women to be free to get an abortion – all stances that have gotten majority opposition from the Conservative caucus in last ten years. It’s a pro-freedom party that voted against legal weed, because they care so much about individual liberty they think that teenagers who smoke should be arrested for it.
The idea of a Conservative Government is in so many ways ill-defined in a post-COVID world, because for the first time, there was immense increases in Government spending, with inflationary impacts, clearly, that were definitionally temporary. In a similar crisis, a traditional Conservative government would promise to repeal a lot of the spending measures, but the CERB and the wage subsidy will have been gone for years by the time of the next election, and the Liberals will be able to run on shrinking deficits and a recovering economy (assuming the economic dip happens soon, a 2025 election will be in the green shoots of that recovery). What, then, is it for?
The Conservatives have papered over so much of their actual policy difference by just opposing things that are easy for Conservatives to hate – spending and COVID restrictions – and now they’re at the point where the spending is going down and the COVID restrictions are gone, and so is all of the stuff keeping Rempel Garner in the same party as Poilievre and Lewis. What actually do they agree on? They (kind of) agree on small government, and I think in his heart Poilievre agrees with Rempel Garner on abortion and gay rights, but Skippy will have to keep his right flank – the people who got him elected – on side, meaning he can’t execute the pivot without pain.
On child care, Poilievre came out and said that it was bad, because some families were paying taxes to pay for other families to get cheap child care, an argument that works with a certain kind of family and goes down like piss in the suburbs. As the son of a stay at home mother, I get the appeal of it, but it’s class politics in the worst way – us and them politics that would make Jacques Parizeau blush. To Poilievre, young, suburban, two income families aren’t worthy of a child care market that basically prices families out of the workforce because of how fucking expensive it is. And that is a huge fucking problem, both for the wider economy and the chances of the Conservatives winning the next election.
If Poilievre actually had some huge mass movement behind him, it would be easy to see the path in front of him. If the movement really was just a couple of cranks, then they could be easily dismissed, but the crank right of the Conservative Party and Canadian conservatism in general is at such a sweet spot of support that it is too small to truly help the CPC, but big enough to force them to be listened to.
What does the Canadian Conservative Party do to appeal to suburbanites who have been materially helped, to the tune of thousands of dollars a year, when their leader is referring to that help as undeserved help? What do they do to win in Timmins or Sault Ste. Marie if they pivot to the centre on abortion access, guns, or Poilievre has to walk back the opposition to the child care? It’s nearly impossible, because the broader conservative movement is hanging together by a thread right now, and the Convoy is but the latest example of it.
This is not a populist uprising designed to take power back from a tyrannical leader, it’s a fascist attempt to depose a Prime Minister they don’t like that has been normalized – by the press, by Bergen, by Poilievre, and by the press once again – as a movement for “freedom” and over vague shit. It’s a disgrace that it’s being reported this way, but let’s be clear about what this movement really is. It’s antithetical to actual, small c conservatism, because it is about a violation of our most sacred freedom – the freedom to be represented by the government of our choice.
This movement is not majority opinion in the Conservative Party, and I’m sure if you asked the Conservative Caucus privately most of them, if not all of them, would denounce it in two seconds. But there are enough of them that if the CPC spurns them, the PPC get 10% of the vote and some of their seats may be at risk – either from a surging PPC in rural seats or from a right vote split giving the seat to the Liberals or NDP – so this façade, of Poilievre showing up for a walk downtown on June 30th but then releasing a (well done) video about unity and gratitude on the day itself. The Tories are playing with fire, hoping that they can coddle the right enough to win their votes, before pivoting to the centre to win the election. (If this sounds familiar, E. O’Toole did the same thing and lost 2 seats.)
The Convoy’s a disgrace, a plaything of fascist thugs and well-meaning Canadians tricked into thinking this is about freedom. It’s also a walking advertisement for hatred, bigotry, and indifference towards your fellow man, all things that Conservatives usually strive to avoid looking like. Cameron and Harper both spent so much time pivoting their respective Conservative Parties to a “compassionate conservatism” for this reason – the Tories lose when they’re seen as a party of “you’re on your own”, and win when they can show a collective vision, even if their means to get to their collectivism is much different than their opposition.
At the end of the day, the Convoy just reminds me of how I felt when I listened to Cathedral Bells for hours on end – too depressed to get better, not depressed enough to act on my dark thoughts. It was this lifeless state of existence, the delaying of important questions designed to get to the end of the day every day. Eventually, I faced the crisis head on and got better. I wonder when Canadian Conservatives will do the same.