It’s been a while since I’ve written anything in this space, mostly because I’ve been taking some time to disconnect and take some time for myself and my family. At some point I knew I would come back to the charge and to commenting on what is happening around us in our politics, but the question in my mind was “what would it be that would trigger me to go back to the keyboard?”. Well yesterday the answer finally came and it’s a story that only seems to be starting:
Folks, I can’t say I’m shocked at this turn of events but on a certain level, I am. I have been saying for the past two months on radio and TV that I believed there would be three leadership races before the next general election, and that the Conservatives would end up being one of the parties having one. The idea that the Conservatives would end up going down this road isn’t a surprise, but I have to admit I didn’t see it going down this way.
Between the anti-vaxxers and those who are trying to start a “Civil Liberties Caucus” to stand up for those who are facing the natural consequences refusing to get vaccinated (instead of fighting to keep schools and hospitals safe and ensuring that everyone working in those places are vaccinated), there have been more than enough voices within the Conservative caucus threatening to send their party far off into the political wilderness. And that doesn’t even start to touch the usual flash points in their party, like gun control, Abortion access and climate change. As Stewart Prest recently pointed out, while Canadian society has pretty solidly made up their mind on most of these issues, with strong majorities supporting progressive positions on these matters.
It’s only within the Conservative camp that you see major divisions on these issues, and in some cases, their divisions aren’t even that even. A great example of that comes with COVID measures and vaccinations, where public polling continues to show that while the Conservatives are the most offside with public opinion on mandatory vaccinations and public health measures, even within their own base the percentage of those who oppose is a clear and small minority. Yet again and again, we’ve seen conservative leaders across the country have twisted themselves into pretzels trying to accommodate that tiny minority, to the detriment of the majority and any kind of common sense.
Of course, none of that is Erin O’Toole’s doing; that’s been the Conservative party for a long time and long before he became leader, so he doesn’t own the blame for that state of things. But where O’Toole does own culpability is on how he’s conducted his leadership, from the race to become leader right up to the present day. While I disagree with a lot of Senator Denise Batters assessment of O’Toole’s leadership, there is one point where she is right on the mark; He won the leadership race claiming to be ‘true blue’ but as soon as that campaign was over, he tried to tack back to the centre and ditched that persona he created to win the leadership. At the time, I pointed out that appeared to be the lesson that he learned from his first run for the Conservative Leadership; he couldn’t win as who he was. So he changed that, went hard right and then tried to walk it all back as if no one would notice or care.
That turned out to be a terrible calculation, especially when that approach led to more and more clear contradictions during the election campaign. It exposed O’Toole to one of the worst charges that can be thrown at any political leader; being insincere and unprincipled. That gets even worse when you can point to examples that make those charges plausible and with merit.
Of all the things that Erin O’Toole can blame others for in this moment, he completely owns that, and he hasn’t properly figured out how to deal with that fact and correct it. In the end, it could cost him his current role. But while all of those points could easily sink O’Toole, one thing appears to be different this time that I find to be very noteworthy:
This is an interesting turn of events and quite the gambit, one we haven’t seen yet in this post-Reform Act era of Canadian politics. According to CBC’s reporting, “24 Conservative MPs have pledged to sign a letter triggering the Reform Act”, giving them the chance to vote to remove any Conservative MP who backs Batters motion to pressure O’Toole. This is the first time I’ve seen this being thrown around, and there’s good reason why you wouldn’t just say this willy nilly; if you don’t have the votes to back this up, it’s a terrible bluff. That’s exactly why I don’t think they don’t have the votes to back this kind of threat up because if they didn’t, that’s the kind of threat you can undo or stop the damage from. It’s as heavy-handed a move as we’ve seen a post-Harper Conservative leader take with their own caucus, and the way they operate, you can’t do this and survive it if you don’t have the numbers.
The question that remains now is if this threat will work or will someone call their bluff? It all makes for quite a wild time under the Blue Tent and could easily go wrong in so many ways. And the irony of the situation is that I can easily picture this situation playing out under the leadership of just about any other potential Conservative leader short of Stephen Harper himself. Seriously, with the divisions in the conservative movement as they currently exist, who can possibly keep it all together and become able to govern anything? It doesn’t seem possible in the least, especially when you have some who could care less about that governing imperative. So while Erin O’Toole has made a good part of the bed that he is currently laying in, I submit that there isn’t a potential Conservative replacement that changes the underlying facts hoping up said bed. Tossing Erin O’Toole won’t be the silver bullet to fixing what ails the Conservative movement, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. This merry-go-round doesn’t look like it’s about to stop anytime soon. If anything, it’s picking up speed and if they can’t get this thing under control soon, it’s going to result in a lot of yelling, screaming, fighting and nausea. Not exactly the winning formula to forming government.