Now that the votes have been cast, the points assigned and the winner declared in the Conservative Leadership race, it’s time to read through the entrails of what just happened and what it means going ahead. Like in all races like these, you come out of it with clear winners and losers that go beyond the person who won the race outright. With that in mind, here is my take on who came out of this race as a winner and who limped away taking a loss:
- Dr. Leslyn Lewis (winner): Maybe the one big consensus coming out of this race revolves around the performance of this first-time leadership candidate. She did far better than most would have expected and raised more money in this race than a least a couple parties in the House of Commons did in the past year. She gave the social conservative crowd in the party a strong advocate they could get behind, but also managed to draw a lot of support from the party’s homeland in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In a race that was just as much a referendum on the Conservatives reliance on the social conservative vote as anything else, she mounted a campaign that ensured they wouldn’t be pushed out, which leads us to the next big winner…
- Dr. Charles McVety (winner): Who better represents social conservatives in Ontario and Canada than this man. He has been attached to so many issues that this community have pushed and long been seen as a political force onto himself. So in this moment when Conservatives were seriously asking questions about how closely (if at all) they should be attached to this cohort of voters, McVety stood to be the biggest loser of all. His power goes away if he doesn’t have a major national party that he can leverage to support his issues. So when he openly and actively got Dr. Lewis to run, it was noteworthy to say the least. It may have seemed a bit odd to see him back this relative unknown at the time, but it looks much differently now. By her result, the social conservatives can say they pushed back the attempts to jettison them and in doing so, McVety is a big winner in all of this.
- Old-School Progressive Conservatives (loser): Many argued that there wasn’t much difference between Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay when it came to their old PC credentials, and there was a point to that. But I would argue that the way this race ended , it turned into a clear loss for this part of the party. For starters, if MacKay was seen as the standard bearer for the PC’s, his flop of a result is a big loss for them by itself. But to me the bigger loss is not that O’Toole won, but how he won. With his inflammatory rhetoric and backing from old Reform/Alliance stalwarts like Jason Kenney, O’Toole ran away from his PC roots. He and his team obviously did the calculus and after his 2017 3rd place finish they seemed to have determined that he couldn’t win as a PC. That’s as bad a sign for PCs as anything else because if you can’t win as one inside this party, do you really have a future inside of it? It’s a serious question that many are likely asking themselves these days and those answers might become clearer once we see which Erin O’Toole arrives to run the show.
- The Post Millennial (winner): When was the last time a media organization effectively managed to highjack the language, messaging and direction of a party in Canada? And I don’t mean just parroting a message, but actually signing onto a leadership team and pushing them to victory with your particular brand of language? There isn’t a modern-day example of that and even the closest comparison (the former Sun TV) was more of a case of conservatives taking over the outlet than the other way around. Yet in this case, the leaders of the Post Millennial didn’t just write nice op-eds in favour of Erin O’Toole, they were on his communications team. They had a huge influence on the policy direction of his campaign, and you can see their fingerprints all over every tweet they put out. It’s disturbing to see that happen, especially when you factor in Andrew Scheer’s odd rant last night when he suggested people read them, decrying mainstream media outlets as untrustworthy and lacking objectivity. I guess in Scheer’s world view in order to be “objective”, the media outlet needs to be on the party payroll and in their press room? Anyway, while this is a bad turn of events for Canadians, it’s good for the Post Millennial who in a few short years have gone from bothering people on social media with angry memes to leading the policy direction of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition
- Jason Kenney (winner): Back when Jason Kenney endorsed Erin O’Toole, it was easy to see it as a key moment back then. The historical rivalries between Kenney and MacKay are well known so you know that being who he is, he wasn’t going to sit quietly on the sideline while MacKay strolled to victory. But given the light field that got into this race, Kenney didn’t have many choices when it came to which candidate to back. Really it was clear that it should have been O’Toole by default but let’s be clear; O’Toole needed Kenney’s support much more than Kenney needed to back O’Toole. Kenney could have sat back and just let O’Toole do his thing. But by backing him so publicly, Kenney gave the only person with a chance to beat MacKay the boost he would need to pull it off. In the end, Kenney gained himself a proxy in Ottawa, someone who owes his leadership in great part to Kenney’s endorsement and help. That’s a serious power imbalance that could be problematic for O’Toole in the long run. But for Kenney, he’s on the good side of that imbalance, which might make him one of the bigger winners in this race down the road
- Derek Sloan (loser): It came as no shock that Derek Sloan came in last nationally and almost in every province in the country. Given his lack of experience, inability to speak French and his generally offensive views, he never should have been in this race at all. Or as one Conservative commentator put it on CBC last night, Sloan wouldn’t have been approved to be a candidate in a general election under Stephen Harper, let alone to run for leader. While Sloan might have gotten more of the vote than most anticipated, he was never a treat to contend. The only threat he turned out to be was to his own political future because it’s hard to picture how after everything he’s said and done in this race that the new leader will be able to keep him in the caucus. That will be among O’Toole’s first challenges, especially if there is a snap election and he has to decide if he’ll let him run for the party. While it wouldn’t be surprising if Sloan was allowed to stay, it’s hard to image him ever getting a chance to be a cabinet minister in any future Conservative government. Most MPs like Sloan who get into a leadership race they have no business being in do so to raise their profile and make themselves a cabinet candidate in the future. While Sloan did raise his profile, he also razed his reputation and name, making him toxic and destroying any chance to become anything more than the most back bench of back benchers. And that’s the best-case scenario. So in far too many ways, Sloan lost this race and lost bigtime.
- Justin Trudeau & the Liberals (winners-ish): When it comes to the current government, Peter MacKay might have been the biggest threat to them in a general election, even with his inability to speak French. But regardless of which of the four won last night, none of them showed the immediate ability to give Trudeau and the Red team night terrors. When the inability to speak French was so stark with the whole field, that was always going to give the Liberals a big electoral advantage that would be historically hard for the Conservatives to overcome. And given how O’Toole won this race and the language he used, the Liberals ability to paint the Conservatives into a box just got easier than it would have with MacKay. That there alone should make them winners in this, but I put a big caveat on all of this. Over the past 18 months the Liberals have managed to show an amazing ability to hurt themselves with scandals, the latest of which being the WE scandal. Those cuts add up after a while and while no one will force you to bleed out, if you gather enough of them eventually you bleed out. The Liberals are dancing dangerously on the edge of that point and if the Red Team underestimate O’Toole and Co, it could turn out to be the biggest mistake they’ve ever made. While the Conservatives blind hatred of Justin Trudeau left them blind to the possibilities of them winning in 2015, the Liberals equally dangerous high self-confidence and generally low esteem for the abilities of the Conservatives could equally have the same effect whenever the next election comes. I’ve said it time and again, the best asset the Liberals have is an Opposition that’s been unable to take advantage of their gaffs and scandals. But eventually someone will get it right, either through skill, accident or luck. People won’t ignore the Liberals scandals forever and if they are counting on the opposite, this win could easily turn into a loss, another completely of their own making.