Someone needs to find out what planet the Conservative Party of Canada – specifically, its Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) – is living on. It definitely isn’t planet Earth, where a good chunk of the population is under strict orders to stay home and physically isolate while we try to cope with a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
The world that existed when the Conservative leadership race first kicked off isn’t around anymore. School has been cancelled, businesses have closed, workers have been laid off en masse and people are now holed up in the homes they suddenly can’t afford without emergency government assistance. The Conservative Party of Canada, meanwhile – perhaps intoxicated by the gases in Neptune’s orbit – is carrying on its leadership race as if COVID-19 hasn’t turned everyone’s lives upside down. It’s a remarkably tone-deaf course of action for a party that forever tries to portray itself as onside with the average Joe.
Well, Earth to the CPC: Joe just got laid off, he might not make his rent, and he has better things to think about than which candidate has the best resource-extraction plans.
A handful of current and newly-former CPC leadership candidates have called for the LEOC to extend eligibility deadlines and/or to delay the election. Rick Peterson ended up dropping out before this week’s deadline, by which time successful candidates needed to collect 3,000 party member signatures and submit $300,000. Marilyn Gladu stayed in the race until this week but failed to meet the entry requirements. Erin O’Toole, a front-runner alongside Peter MacKay, has implored the committee to delay the campaign, whereas Mr. MacKay, clearly confident with his prospects, has actually called for the timeline to be sped up.
There is no doubt an element of self-interest in each candidate’s position – the front-runner wants to get the vote over with, those lagging behind want more time. But if crass political opportunism stinks in normal times, it ought to be disqualifying during a global emergency, when an estimated 4 million Canadians will end up needing government relief. Indeed, this is perhaps the ultimate test of leadership; if a candidate can’t put his personal ambitions aside and recognize the need to put resources, time, fundraising efforts and grassroots energy towards something more important than fluffing his own campaign, he has no business leading a party, let alone a country.
Conservatives who insist the leadership race must stay the course contend it is necessary to ensure a strong and robust opposition. But the events of this past week clearly demonstrate that Canada already has a strong and robust opposition, even with outgoing leader Andrew Scheer at its helm. When the Liberals tried to table legislation with a patently insane provision that would have allowed cabinet to tax and spend without parliamentary approval through the end of 2021, the Conservatives mobilized instantly to beat it back. The Liberals eventually backed off, rightfully so, and the House passed a COVID-19 aid package after an all-night session.
Mr. MacKay, meanwhile, is busy e-mailing supporters about changing the basic personal exemption on taxable earnings to $30,000 – as if Canadians can actually leave their homes to earn a living right now – and tweeting about discussions on building transit – as if people are thinking about transit infrastructure when they board a bus nowadays and worry about holding the rail.
If it must, the Conservative leadership race can carry on with virtual town halls, a debate without an audience, a cancelled convention and mail-in ballots. That is, if it wants to elect a leader without actually engaging the grassroots and running a real campaign, it can. But from the perspective of those outside the party, pretending that the world hasn’t changed looks absolutely ridiculous. Those inside the party might want to take heed.
One of the lessons for the Conservatives from the last election was about its failure to resonate with and understand the general electorate. Perhaps the LEOC believes that this leadership race is simply a Conservative Party matter, and that it can worry about other Canadians – the ones it will have to appeal to in a general election – later, when this is all over. But those other Canadians are nevertheless witnesses to what’s happening now, and all they’re seeing is a party so out of touch with the average Canadian that it’s carrying on a leadership race while many people are trying to keep their heads above water. If the committee would take a moment to breathe the air outside the Conservative bubble, it might realize how trivial and idiotic this all seems.
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