For Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Donald Trump’s imminent departure is unqualified good news.
The outgoing U.S. President is unpopular, to put it mildly, with most Canadians. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and then-Green Party leader Elizabeth May tried to tie Mr. Trump around former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s neck in the past election.
Mr. Scheer “seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to support and continue Trump’s policies,” said Mr. Singh in the leaders’ debate. The Conservatives will be happy to see Mr. Trump leave the White House.
But Mr. O’Toole seeks to create the same coalition that Mr. Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson forged. Whether he succeeds will decide the next election.
Tory strategists are fascinated by the British Conservatives’ success in the 2019 election at appealing to working-class voters in what used to be Labour strongholds.
“The Conservative Party is no longer exclusively the ‘party of the rich,’ ” concluded one postelection analysis for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. “For the first time in recorded history, it now holds a clear lead over Labour among people who are struggling to make ends meet.”
Mr. Trump won in 2016 by shattering the “blue wall” of previously Democratic industrial Midwestern states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Mr. O’Toole wants to do the same thing here.
In an Oct. 30 address to the Canadian Club of Toronto, he lamented the decline of private-sector unions. The Conservative Leader declared “too much power is in the hands of the few corporate elite who have been only too happy to outsource jobs abroad.” For younger workers, he said, employment was too often “a dead end, an endless cycle of contract work, with no benefit, no security, no obligations on the part of the employers.
“Do we really want a nation of Uber drivers?” he asked. “Do we really want to abandon a generation of Canadians to some form of Darwinian struggle? … It’s time Conservatives, and Canadians, took inequality seriously.” He went on to urge limits on Chinese imports and to bringing back manufacturing jobs in critical areas such as personal protective equipment.
If Mr. O’Toole’s message resonates, the Conservatives will have a real opportunity to expand into the suburban communities surrounding Toronto and Vancouver, which is the always-necessary condition for any federal party wishing to form government.
But the next Canadian election will take place in a different environment from the recent American or British elections. Mr. Johnson appealed to working-class voters who want to leave the European Union because they believe workers from the continent are taking their jobs. Also, Jeremy Corbyn was the worst Labour leader since Michael Foote in the early 1980s. Neither factor applies to Canada.
Mr. Trump may have won over working-class white voters in 2016, but Joe Biden won back at least some of them four years later. “These voters played a key role in delivering victories for Biden in the Rust Belt states where [Hillary] Clinton lost the presidency in 2016,” Joan C. Williams wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
And there are dark elements within the conservative movement in America and Britain that, if even a whiff of them were detected within the federal Conservatives, would doom the party to opposition for a generation.
Mr. Trump, who has never shied away from stoking racial tensions, seeks to reverse the election outcome by disqualifying ballots in counties with large numbers of Black voters. The race card is now the only card left in his hand. Mr. Johnson has increased diversity within the Conservative Party, but racial resentment afflicts some, though by no means all, members of the white, British working class.
Mr. O’Toole must be very careful. The suburban ridings around Toronto and Vancouver that his party is trying to woo have large numbers of immigrant voters. While the Conservative Leader supports high levels of immigration, others in the Conservative base are more skeptical.
In the next election, the Liberals, NDP and Greens will do everything in their power to persuade suburban immigrant voters that the Conservatives are racially intolerant. How will Mr. O’Toole prevent that smear from sticking? For the Tories, that’s the question that matters most.
The party of O’Toole must never resemble the party of Trump.
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