The Conservative Party of Canada has caught a virus. Imported from the diseased body politic of the United States, the bug has spent years spreading among the party’s MPs. Last week, it put Erin O’Toole’s leadership into the ICU. On Tuesday, it sent it to the morgue.
The still-warm corpse will now be given a full autopsy by journalists and political scientists, though that isn’t really necessary. We already know what led to this demise.
It’s the Republican flu what done it.
Mr. O’Toole’s leadership was dedicated to the proposition that, if the Conservatives wanted to win a federal election, they needed to inoculate themselves against this foreign intellectual bacillus. The MPs who overthrew him appear to be dedicated to the proposition that what the Conservative Party needs is to hold a chickenpox party, so everyone catches what’s been wafting across the border.
It’s true that the Liberals have their own intellectual pandemic to deal with. Though it’s different from the bug afflicting the Conservatives, it too is a byproduct of something born down south – and it too saps centrist support. The two variants are competitors, yet they are also interdependent. The woke pathogen on the left and the anti-woke germ on the right propagate most successfully when they can feed off of one another. They are each other’s oxygen.
The country isn’t well served by any of this, but the party suffering most is unquestionably the Conservatives. They’ve been racked by stresses, from an election loss to their own schizophrenia over vaccines. And underlying it all is a running internal argument over whether to fight the American flu, or embrace it.
A majority of Conservative MPs appear to have to have chosen the latter.
Last week, we wrote that Mr. O’Toole had to “unhitch the Conservatives from the Freedom Convoy, or get run over.” The party instead climbed aboard, and unhitched Mr. O’Toole.
Two possible results may come of this. One is bad. The other would be worse.
The bad result: The Liberals could be left as what they have too often been, namely Canada’s only party with true national appeal. The Natural Governing Party.
The Conservatives who defenestrated Mr. O’Toole are misunderstanding Canada, Canadians and even Canadian conservatism. Canada is not America. Its people aren’t, its problems aren’t, its answers aren’t and its conservatism isn’t.
Our politics simply aren’t as polarized, though Conservatives and Liberals alike have of late been trying to change that. Our parties have traditionally won by appealing to the middle and the reasonable. And by – however a dirty word this has become – compromising.
This is coalition country. Big, broad tents. It is not a land of extreme political faiths. Please hang up and try your call again, you have the wrong number.
Conservatives were long carriers of this Canadian inheritance, a marriage of law-and-order and generous liberalism. Respectful change, not revolution. An appreciation of the necessity of government, rather than instinctive opposition to it. An understanding that while freedom is our birthright, giving it form is impossible without acceptance of shared responsibilities.
But the people trying to climb into the driver’s seat on the Conservative bus appear to have other ideas.
That would leave the Liberals with no opposition in the centre, and the majority of centrist Canadians with no alternatives. The Liberals’ only threats would be on the left – which in the 2020s is not the economic left, but rather the woke left. The Liberals would have no choice but to keep tacking in that direction. Tacking left, wedging right, further polarizing the electorate, winning elections in cakewalks.
Those are the potential bad results of the Tory fever.
The potential worse outcome? That a few years from now, with large numbers of voters frustrated and looking for change – the Liberals have already failed to win the popular vote two elections in a row – enough Canadians will switch to the only other national brand to put it into power, regardless of who leads or what it stands for.
It could mean a Canada that ends up with regressive Conservatives as the only alternative to the Liberals – instead of, as Mr. O’Toole was haltingly and unsuccessfully aiming for, progressive Conservatives.
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