The Conservative Party of Canada is currently in a period of reflection and self-examination, one in which it could “reconfigure its identity,” according to one insider.
That’s one way of putting it. Another way, more to the point, is that the party lost the 2019 election in an embarrassing fashion, subsequently turfed its leader in a mini-scandal and is now desperately trying to figure out what it needs to do to beat the Liberal minority government when the next election comes around.
There are going to be a lot of ideas thrown out in the coming months about what the party ought to do. For instance, Scott Reid, a long-serving Conservative MP, recently posted an essay online urging his party to lead on important democratic issues, such as electoral reform and the right of MPs to defy the party line and vote their conscience.
But while such ideas are important, what Conservatives really need to do is be honest with themselves about what it will take to win a general election.
It’s quite straightforward, really: The party has to attract Liberal voters.
The basic math of the Canadian electorate means the Conservatives can’t win without getting elected in Quebec and Ontario ridings that can swing either way.
That math could have translated into a Conservative victory in 2019, what with the Trudeau Liberals besieged by scandal and having to share their voting base with the NDP and other left-leaning parties. Instead, the Tories under Leader Andrew Scheer failed to make gains in the East and ended up landlocking themselves in the West.
The party needs to ask itself a simple question: What would attract a person who voted Liberal in 2019 to switch their vote next time around?
Just as importantly, the party has to do this without tying itself in knots over the false premise that it must automatically oppose any and every policy not conceived of by itself.
Take carbon pricing. As this page has repeatedly said, the federal policy of imposing a consumer carbon tax on provinces that fail to do so themselves is an effective and revenue-neutral way of persuading Canadians to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. By all measures, it should be a Conservative policy.
Instead, the federal Conservatives and too many of their provincial counterparts have falsely described carbon pricing as a tax grab and a plot to destroy the oil-and-gas industry, their only evidence being that the Liberals were the ones to implement it.
The strategy has failed – two-thirds of Canadian voters opted for parties that support the federal carbon tax in the 2019 election – and yet to date the Conservatives continue to press ahead, unwilling to accept reality.
Voters are not going to want to go over that tired ground again in a few years’ time. As much as it might pain them, it’s time for Conservatives to accept that a strong majority of voters have endorsed the idea that Canada needs to fight climate change, and that the carbon tax is a sensible policy tool in that regard.
The need to admit defeat also goes for the thorny social issues of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. These have been settled in the courts, and the majority of Canadians want them left alone. The next Conservative leader should make it clear they are listening.
The party should also tone down its attack on “elites," especially in light of the fact that grassroots members’ donations were being used to help Mr. Scheer put his children through private school. That sort of divisive, grievance-based language is a tired trope, not to mention hypocritical.
Do these things alone, and it might even be enough for the Conservatives to gain on the Liberals next time around.
Even better for the Tories, there are plenty of additional ways they can offer Liberal voters an alternative, and further reinforce their chances of electoral success.
One that leaps to mind is the intangible quality of gravitas. The Conservatives have never been entirely wrong to raise doubts about Justin Trudeau’s leadership skills; his numerous unforced errors have been proof of that.
Much of the Conservatives’ fortunes will indeed depend on who they choose as their next leader. But even more critically, the party must get with the times on issues that are important to a majority of Canadians. It’s not complicated.