It’s only Wednesday but this week we’ve already seen some major news come from the Conservative Leadership race, as some big shoes start to drop and we get a better idea of what the field might look like. Given the compressed timelines, the tough rules and the stakes of this race, there isn’t a lot of time for people to make a call to get in or stay out, which was done by design. But over the last 24 hours we’ve seen some big news shake free that tells us a lot about what this race will look like. Let’s start with who’s out:
Bryan Brulotte, we hardly got to know thee. The high bar for signatures and money that the Conservatives set to get into this race, it was always going to make it very hard for someone of Brulotte’s background and lack of exposure. By stepping out, he’s avoided making himself the next Kevin O’Leary, which probably isn’t a bad thing.
The much bigger news here is that Rona Ambrose is staying out of this race. If she had gotten in, she would have been a formidable candidate, despite the lack of sufficient French language skills. Her period as Interim Leader after Stephen Harper resigned gave her a great platform to show what she was made of, and that left a lot of people wondering “What if?”. But that will remain a question without an answer as she won’t make the plunge. That will be music to the ears of people like Pierre Poilievre, Erin O’Toole, Jean Charest and other potential candidates…. Oh, and the Liberals, don’t forget the Liberals here because Ambrose would have made a great foil to Mr. Trudeau and could beat him. But for now, we’ll have to move onto others and let’s go to the new big name coming in with four simple words on Twitter:
Well that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Peter MacKay is a big name to come into this race and he’s someone with a definite lane to victory. He could deliver seats on the East Coast and Ontario and while his French isn’t great, it looks good when compared to other candidates not named Jean Charest. He could have been a formidable candidate for this leadership last time but took a pass. A couple years later, he’s still as formidable and now has a bit of distance between some of his own scandals during his days as a minister in the Harper government. The other interesting factor here with MacKay is what kind of Conservative will he try to paint himself as? Will it be as the more progressive Conservative, like the old party he used to lead then led into a merger with the Harper Canadian Alliance? Or will he try to be the standard bearer of the legacy of the Harper government? Given that he’s by far the most senior cabinet minister from that period and no one else who enters will threaten that title. I would argue he might try to straddle both but in this environment, I don’t know if you can play the progressive Conservative without repudiating some of the Harper era, especially given that the Scheer era was an attempted lower-rent carbon copy of the Harper days. And speaking of the former Prime Minister, we got a bit of a curveball from his direction too:
Wow looks like Mr. Harper has a pretty big bee in his bonnet. First Harper suddenly resigns from the Conservative Fund and then we hear it’s because “Harper’s main goal is to free himself up to block Jean Charest’s campaign for the party leadership”. According to the same piece by Paul Wells of Maclean’s, Charest did try to get Harper’s blessing for his run and when Harper said no, he told Charest “the party is no longer the party Charest led.” Yikes! This move opens all kinds of pandoras boxes here for a few years. Firstly, as mentioned with MacKay’s bid, how to do make the party more modern and acceptable to more Canadians while at the same time not repudiating parts of the Harper era, which was known for that more regressive approach that Canadians just rejected? I don’t know how you square that circle and I don’t know if it can be to be honest. Somethings gotta give there.
Secondly, does Harper push specifically for a single candidate and if he does and that person actually wins, how are the able to make the needed changes? How does that person escape being labeled a hand-picked clone of Mr. Harper himself, along with everything that entails? And finally, will Harper go after other candidates he deems to be as unworthy as Mr. Charest? Would that include Mr. MacKay, depending on the direction that he tries to go? Needless to say, the idea of Stephen Harper trying to jam all of his digits on the scale as hard as he can in this race is a potentially huge prospect, and one that could play out in so many different ways.
And in the end, that last development has to be worrying for those who might have been worried about if the next leader of this party will be able to hold this merged coalition together. The idea of Harper jamming his way into this race, to push hard for a specific outcoming, surely isn’t a good sign for those who had legitimate concerns about their party coming out of the last election. At this point, I don’t think that Stephen Harper imposing his will on this race will get the result it would have a decade ago. To me, this feels like bringing a bazooka to a whiffle bat fight; a big over-reaction that could create many more problems than it potentially solves. But at the very least, the events of the past 24 hours has surely done one thing for those of us who are not going to be casting a vote in this race; it’s made for some great political drama and theatre. Get your popcorn ready folks, the show is about to begin and it looks like it’s going to be a rough ride.