This week we’ll see something happen in Canadian politics that will be as close to a “normal” event as we have in a long time, although being the age of COVID-19, it won’t be that normal. This week we’ll see the first debates of the Conservative Leadership Race, which will happen virtually. The French debate will be first on Wednesday followed by the English debate on Thursday. In an interesting COVID-19 twist, the four candidates will be kept apart, all in separate rooms at the debate venue in Toronto while people watch online.

It’s a set up that former Harper staffer turned Erin O’Toole national campaign manager Fred Delorey described to the CBC as “almost like Hollywood Squares”, which I have do admit is quite fitting. Given the way this race as evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective), it’s had all the quality and depth of a bad 80’s TV game show. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, the O’Toole campaign managed to prove the latest news they have generated. Let’s start with two tweets that his campaign release which left a mark:

Yes folks, this “True Blue Conservative” is going to “Take Canada Back”. From whom you might ask? Well last time I check it wasn’t “taken” by anyone. Canadians elected another government made of Canadians, one that just happened to not be Conservatives, so nothing was “taken” to take the country back from. That’s called democracy, something that O’Toole seems alright with when he wins. But anywho, that plays into this attempt at “othering” other parties as some how “less Canadian”, an amazingly tone-deaf thing to do in this precise moment.

He didn’t stop there, he got most specific. A few days later he tweeted that “unlike the Trudeau Liberals”, he will always, always, ALWAYS “fight for Canadian values and Canadian workers.” You see, the Liberals will sell out Canadians to shadowy “foreign interests” and don’t give a damn about “real” Canadian workers. Remember, he’s a “True Blue Conservative”, so he’d never let Canadian workers down on that front. That’s just not his style, as I’m sure that tweet is meant to assure. But then something came out just a day later, that pointed to a wee problem with that whole message:

Oops! It turns out that Mr. “True Blue Conservative” who bristles and excoriates “others” for “selling out Canadian workers” was himself, well, selling out Canadian workers. Or more precisely put, was offshoring part of his leadership campaign about “standing up for Canadians” by hiring… ummm… Americans. According to his campaign they hired an American firm to help because “of a lack of availability of Canadian conservative political call centres”.

I guess that a non-partisan Canadian call centre could not be trusted with the vital job of that “one small project”? Lord knows that many of those centres could use the work right now. Or if that was not an option, how about a simply, old-school option: campaign volunteers. You know, those people who give their time to a campaign that they support and care about. The idea of using volunteers to do calls is far from new and there are all kinds of digital options to help volunteers make calls from their homes. You would think that with the funds it took to pay that American firm for that “one small project”, they could have paid for a software license and some headsets for a group of volunteers to make those calls. But no, instead they “stood up for Canadian workers” by hiring offshore. That’s a “True Blue Conservative” if I’ve ever seen one. But folks that’s not all the O’Toole campaign put out there that’s questionable, as this next tweet shows:

Forgive me if you’ve heard that fairy tale before; a Conservative is going to balance the budget all without raising taxes. Global’s David Akin perfect tweet on this summed this up with one work: Unicorns! Yes, we’ve reached the magical thinking portion of the Conservative Leadership campaign, where you can cut your way to balance, all without ever raising a tax (unless you put in “user fees”, which totally aren’t taxes, right?) and none of it will hurt. None whatsoever. It’s magic, it’s just that those dastardly Liberals and others refuse to share it with the masses, unlike those Conservatives mages who share their magic far and wide. They’re so close to being magically promiscuous that it makes the social conservatives in the corner nervous about the number of Hail Mary’s they’ll need to say for penance.

Of course, this is complete and utter trash. This approach has been promised many times during elections and after the votes were counted, like unicorns they were nowhere to be found. This has been the basics of the Conservative playbook forever, with the most recent examples of it being Jason Kenney in Alberta and Doug Ford in Ontario. Kenney promised to bring back big days with little pain and that’s just not happened. In Ontario, Doug Ford ran on promises like that no civil servants would lose their jobs as his government found efficiencies. In case you weren’t clear about that pledge, he tweeted this that’s still up to this day:

“Not a single person will lose their job”, only to see thousands of people lose them after the election as Ford’s Conservatives started to hack and slash at programs and funding all over the place. It shouldn’t shock people to find out that many of the same people who helped to bring us that paradigm of promise keeping are the same people now behind O’Toole’s campaign and these promises. And just as the unicorns haven’t arrived at Queen’s Park, if he were ever to become Prime Minister, I doubt they would ever arrive in Erin O’Toole’s Ottawa.

And even with that, even with how craptacular that week has been for O’Toole, it’s still the best week out of the four candidates in this race. That speaks volumes about the current state of this leadership race and will be on full display on Wednesday and Thursday nights. We’ll see what those debates bring but something tells me that this week will be an even rougher week for this race, as Canadians tune in hoping for a thoughtful debate. Sadly the odds are more likely that they’ll see a weak Canadian parody version Saturday Night Live’s “Celebrity Jeopardy” skit than a true discussion. But such is the state of the Conservative Leadership race, the clown car that keeps running, even though the tires are all flat and the trunk is on fire. It makes for a sight to see, but doesn’t help Canadians have a better country.