Skip to main content

UCP Leader Jason Kenney in Toronto on Dec. 2, 2019.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Jason Kenney was ousted by the Alberta United Conservative Party he created. Ed Fast was pushed out of his post as federal Conservative finance critic for suggesting it might hurt Canada’s financial credibility if political leaders such as Pierre Poilievre attack the independence of the Bank of Canada by promising to fire the Governor. That came a few months after Erin O’Toole was dumped as leader.

It sure seems like conservatives in Canada are turning their parties into meat grinders that are churning their own into pieces.

Oh, there are always reasons, from Mr. Kenney’s haughty disconnect to Mr. Fast’s daring to criticize a leadership contender to Mr. O’Toole’s identity flip-flops.

But while there have always been squabbles inside the conservative tent, more people are being cast out of it now – and more quickly. Say, what do you call a political culture where people keep getting cancelled?

Of course, politics is a rough business, and democracy requires turfing leaders from time to time. But there are clearly a significant number of folks in the Tory village these days keen to gather with figurative pitchforks and torches and chase people out.

You’d think the Liberals would be their targets, but often these days, they’re fighting their own.

For some the targets are figures deemed not conservative enough, such as Mr. O’Toole and now, surprisingly, Mr. Kenney, who was a rock-ribbed Conservative in Stephen Harper’s federal government.

But that’s not the nub. There’s a desire to rip out the pandemic and everything to do with it, especially authority figures. Not just to cancel restrictions, but cancel the people who made them in 2020 or whenever, institutions that were involved and authorities in general. Fire governments that were involved and opposition politicians who didn’t scream. That has extended beyond public health and vaccine mandates to inflation and broad mistrust. Fire everyone.

A short time ago, most of the people drummed out of Tory circles were individuals deemed too extreme for a mainstream party, including, more recently, anti-vaxxers and opponents of public-health restrictions.

Mr. O’Toole booted former MP Derek Sloan from caucus because he didn’t want to answer for Mr. Sloan’s social conservative views in an election campaign. Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford kicked out four MPPs over vaccine rules or their opposition to COVID-19 rules – and though Mr. Ford is surviving fine, two are now running against him for fringe parties in the provincial election and one, Roman Baber, is running for the federal Conservative leadership.

It’s the pandemic authorities, and sometimes just authorities, who are facing ostracization now.

Mr. Kenney had other problems, but he was obviously unable to bridge the responsibilities of pandemic governance with the chunk of his base who hated the restrictions, or in some cases, didn’t believe the pandemic was real – folks he referred to as “kooky people generally” in leaked comments to party staff. Erin O’Toole was flattened by the Freedom Convoy when he didn’t get on board.

Mr. Poilievre, meanwhile, has captured the zeitgeist with talk about firing officials and attacks on rivals as Liberals and liars. His early slogan was “Fire the Gatekeepers.” His pledge to fire the Governor of the Bank of Canada is about inflation, but it’s also about satiating the desire for a settling accounts for the things that, in his telling, went wrong in the pandemic – including big deficits that paid for CERB benefits and the central bank’s loose-money policies aimed at staving off recession.

In another time, you’d fully expect the Conservative Party’s finance critic to raise an eyebrow at colleagues making politics with the central bank; but when Mr. Fast complained, it was a step too far for fellow Tory MPs.

Mr. Fast, who supports Jean Charest for the leadership, complained that Mr. Poilievre’s supporters tried to muzzle him and so he quit. That was driven by leadership politics. But it was also an example of a veteran Conservative getting pushed away for getting in the way of the fire-everyone mood. Mr. Fast is a textbook Tory stalwart, a well-liked lawyer who has served as an MP since 2006 and was Mr. Harper’s trade minister.

But Tory traditionalism isn’t the current mood in the party now. It’s hard to be a leader, or a player, in a party that has different churning of cultures inside it. There are Conservatives so frustrated and angry they want to see blood in politics, even if it is from some of their own.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.