I’ve had the chance to take part in a few leadership races in my day and they are unique experiences for sure. Over time I’ve come to accept a few truths about them that seems to be rather universal. First is that while they activate the base, it activates the worst elements of that base. It ends up in playing to the worst instincts and policy desires of that base, to the exclusion of just about anything else.
Secondly, they end up further exposing major rifts in personalities within a party that have been simmering under the surface for a long time. This always seems to be “the moment” where it’s most alright for those scores to be settled and unsurprisingly, that settling never seems to make the party itself any stronger. But finally, and maybe most importantly, parties truly never come out of a competitive leadership race united. The only races that with a truly united party is one where they winner absolutely trounces their opponents.
To that end, the only example you can really point to in recent history would be when Justin Trudeau won the Liberal leadership in a landslide. In almost all others, there was a significant or loud group within the party that never accepted the winners win and usually it would take a major event or development later on in the new leaders leadership that would finally drown that decent out. But right after and shortly after the race is done? Nope, that unity simply isn’t there.
All those truths have simply been re-affirmed for me while I’ve been watching the Conservatives leadership race, as it’s stumbled along from dumpster fire to clown car crash. And through it all, we’ve seen the hard playing to a certain part of the base, with words that will be impossible to walk back in a general campaign and which will lead to inevitable complaints of “I don’t understand why people don’t trust us on a woman’s right to choose or gay rights”. But maybe most notably over the last few days those last two truths have really come to the fore, with a story of the likes I have never seen before yet so on brand for 2020:
Okay, if this isn’t proof that Team O’Toole isn’t playing it safe and nice, then I’m not sure what else you need. Accusing your main opponent of committed alleged criminal acts, going all the way to the point of calling the police, is not something you do when you have other options at hand. That is a nuclear option if there ever was one when dealing with an opponent from another party, but when it’s your own party? That just ratchets that up even more.
For Team MacKay’s part, that reply was about as dismissive and amateurish as can be and given everything that we’ve seen in this campaign from him so far, totally consistent in their performances and actions. It continues to amaze me how someone with his political pedigree, his decades of experience & his time as an actual party leader has been purely incapable of performing the basics of a leadership campaign, let alone the most complex tasks. Seriously, I know the bench depth of the Conservatives when it comes to staff and strategists is solid, so I really have a hard time making heads or tails of MacKay’s continual and spectacular failures in this race.
Putting that all aside, not knowing any details that aren’t in the media about the specifics of these allegations, campaign experience leads me to believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle, lying between deft campaign skullduggery and incompetence. That’s usually what a case like this turns out to be. And to be honest, I could see either being the case. We’ve seen a growing number of examples of campaigns or campaigners trying to pull digital stunts to give their candidates an edge, only to see it blow up in their faces because it was easy to figure out. Given all the amateurish mistakes we’ve seen from Team MacKay since the start, it doesn’t take a big leap to see someone on his team doing that and leading to this. But on the other hand, there were stories running around Ottawa before COVID-19 shut everything down about members of Team O’Toole being a bit sloppy when it came to things that should be confidential, speaking loudly while taking conference calls on cell phones in airport lounges, not paying attention to who was around them, followed by bragging about how they were going to get other candidates, both inside and outside of the party. So could I picture this being a case of someone being casual with sensitive information, leading to it getting out in less-than James Bond-ish ways? Yeah, I could picture that too.
But really none of that matters now because this story is out there, as it is, and will now lead to serious recriminations. Accusations like those are the kinds of thing that simply never go away and are never forgotten by those who get tagged with them. Given the tightness of this race, it felt like it was heading towards a similar kind of finish we saw in 2017, where it was so close and eventually lead to Max Bernier bolting out on his own. But even in that race, with all the animosity in it, we never saw a bomb like this dropped on anyone. No matter who wins this race, it’s not going to be by a landslide of any sort and as such, they were already going to have a big job ahead of them trying to unify their party after the race. That job just got much harder and dare I say, impossible. This is the kind of accusation that tears parties apart for decades and creates wounds so deep that they simply don’t go away. That’s what makes this development so notable and as with most things that have happened in the Conservative Leadership Race to date, the only true winner seems to be Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.