Well folks we’re getting further along in the beginning stages of the Conservative Leadership race and I think we can politely say that it’s not necessarily going to plan so far. Or at least that’s what yesterday seemed to drive home. Before yesterday we heard that maybe the biggest outside the box name to consider running, Jean Charest, was in fact out. Then early yesterday we heard that the social conservatives had their candidate in little known former Harper staffer Richard Décarie.
If that was all that happened yesterday, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad. But as the day went along, things got progressively worse for those who had hoped that this race would not only address the issues that the Conservatives face but also get them closer to government again sometime sooner than later. You may think that I’m exaggerating, but take a gander at these things that happened yesterday:
A-freaking-mazing folks! Where to begin with those four developments? First off, Rona Ambrose not running is a big punch to the gut for the Conservatives. After her stint as Interim Leader before Andrew Scheer became leader, she had become much more well regarded and some even lamented that she didn’t run to become leader last time. But she made it clear yesterday that she’s out and not coming back, meaning that not only did maybe the best possibly challenger to Justin Trudeau is taking a pass, it also means that there isn’t a big-name female candidate in the race. Other than Marilyn Gladu, who isn’t that well known yet outside of Ottawa, all the other candidates are men. That’s not a great look for the Conservatives, who do have women in their ranks who would make good leaders. But they’ve decided to pass on this, which says a fair bit about the current circumstance of the party.
Adding to that impression is the fact that two other people decided they would get in this race, or as Don Martin smartly put it yesterday, “nobodies”, which are now taking over this race. MP Derek Sloan has decided to take the plunge and if you have no idea who he is don’t worry, you’re far from being alone in that. He’s a rookie MP who can count the number of days he’s sat in the chamber of the House of Commons with his two hands and still have fingers left over. Yeah, he’s that green, and as you can see he’s running on a message of “stopping being afraid to be Conservative”. Funny, I didn’t think that fear of being a Conservative was a problem for this group but hey, he’s been around long enough to find at least one of the washrooms in West Block, so he obviously knows best, right?
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to people with very light Parliamentary experience running for leader; heck, I helped to run Romeo Saganash’s NDP leadership campaign when he ran and had a bit more than a month of time in the House of Commons. But in his case, his CV was long and impressive; he had been Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Cree in Quebec, he had been a negotiator for his people for 20 years, he spent 30 or so years representing his people at the United Nations and oh yeah, he helped to draft the bloody UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Romeo had a strong resume before he got elected, which was a sales point and more than enough to stand on. But what does Sloan point to in his pre-elected life that makes him eligible to be the next Leader of the Official Opposition? He points to the fact that he has been “actively involved in the Conservative Party both as a student at Queen’s University and in the local riding.” Yeah, sorry Derek, that’s extremely thin gruel for trying to make the case that you should be in this race. Add to that the fact that he doesn’t speak French, you can see that he’s just simply not a serious candidate.
And speaking of that, the other name that we heard is getting into this race again is Rick Peterson. If you remember him, he did this last time and finished 12th out of 14 candidates. To be clear, he got 0.7% of the vote last time. And what’s his case for jumping in? He’s from Alberta and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else from the region who will get in. Look, he may be right on that front but I still think that’s not enough. Add to the fact that he got so roundly rejected last time, you’d think that he’d be best to simply stay out of this race. But nope, he’s in and he’s going to do it. He has no shot of winning from what I see so you really have to wonder what he hopes to get out of becoming a second-time loser in a leadership race.
And finally if you wanted to pile more crap on top of a crap day for the Blue Team, you had Richard Décarie making comments to CTV’s Evan Solomon that were straight out of the bigoted past, but right in line with the social conservative lane he’s trying to fill. He said that he’d undo gay marriage, he said that being gay “is a choice” and he said he’d defund all abortion services because “it’s not healthcare”. Yep, in one short interview, Décarie trotted out every single social conservative attack that other parties have put at the feet of Conservatives, brought them back to vivid life and made them a part of this debate. He did that to the point that every other major declared candidate in this race came out and tried to put Décarie into his place, telling him that he’s just wrong and pointed out that being a bigot is a choice.
But here is the kicker folks that I couldn’t help but take away from that episode last night; yes all of those candidates went out of their way to go after Décarie’s comments but you know that eventually some of them will be courting either Décarie’s supporters to get them over the top or even Décarie himself. I say this because we saw this happen in 2017, which is how Brad Trost became the kingmaker in that race and you saw both Scheer and Bernier’s teams staking out ground to try to attract his supporters on later ballots. We also saw the same thing in 2018 in Ontario when Tanya Granic Allen was the kingmaker, putting Doug Ford over the top.
Right now this race is lining up to repeat that same dynamic for the third straight time and I found it interesting that none of the candidates who repudiated Décarie’s comments said that social conservatives who hold those views are not welcomed in their party. If anything, we saw it start to go in the other direction as Pierre Poilievre softened his language on stopping anti-abortion bills from his backbenchers, saying he would allow them to be brought forward even if he says he’d stop them. That is exactly what Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer did, and I thought that Conservatives were saying it was exactly that kind of approach that was a problem here.
When you put all of that together from just yesterday, it was a very bad day for Conservatives who thought that maybe their party was ready to evolve and join the 21st century. All these events pointed to a doubling-down on the status quo for that party and despite the fact that the Blue Team has admitted to the problem they have with the Canadian electorate, it looks like they’ve decided to ignore it and go on as usual. Really the happiest people yesterday had to be the folks in the Prime Ministers Office because the Conservative Leadership race seems to be going exactly as Mr. Trudeau and team would have hoped. This race is off to a bad start for the Blue Team and it doesn’t seem to be likely to get better for them anytime soon.