Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall have already endorsed Rona Ambrose to lead the Conservative Party. If the former interim leader decides to run, would she be the best choice to replace Andrew Scheer? Here is one way to answer that question:
Imagine it is Fall 2021 (or maybe 2022). The federal election that followed the defeat of Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government resulted in a thumping Conservative majority win. Now, with the return of Parliament, the triumphant prime minister rises in the House of Commons to answer the first question from a defeated and dispirited opposition. Freeze this frame.
Look at the MPs behind the new Conservative prime minister. Many of them are women. Many of their families came to Canada from India or the Philippines or the Caribbean or the Middle East. Some of them are listening through their earpieces, because the prime minister is speaking in English, and their first language is French.
That’s what the back bench must look like if the Conservatives are to form government. How can they forge such a caucus?
First, by being Conservative, not Liberal. Canada does not need yet another progressive party; there are plenty on offer. A winning Conservative message must emphasize low taxes, balanced budgets and reduced spending, along with a strong emphasis on fighting crime and building up the military, while leaving social policy to the provinces, because that’s what provinces do.
The Conservative Party is, historically, a party of immigration. John Diefenbaker’s government ended the race-based screening of immigrants. Brian Mulroney opened the floodgates, setting an immigration target of 250,000 new arrivals a year. Stephen Harper’s government pushed it higher, to 280,000 in 2010. For that freeze-frame to come true, the Conservatives should be even more bullish on immigration than the Liberals, while cracking down on irregular migration across the Canada-U.S. border.
Immigrant voters tend to be more socially conservative than native-born Canadians. Nonetheless, they will be reassured if the Conservative leader marches at Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal Pride parades, because they know that intolerance toward one means intolerance toward all. Protecting the rights of sexual minorities and of a women’s right to choose is part and parcel of protecting religious and cultural freedoms.
The ease with which the new Conservative leader handles any French-language debate will be crucial to any gains in Quebec. Robust support for resource development, which includes lifting the moratorium on tanker traffic off B.C.'s northern coast, will anchor the party’s Western base.
But winning suburban ridings in Greater Toronto and Waterloo Region and Ottawa will require a commitment to reducing carbon emissions that earns the grudging respect of scientists and economists (even as they insist a carbon tax would have been easier and cheaper).
So which candidate would produce that freeze-frame of a triumphant Conservative caucus cheering on the new prime minister? Ms. Ambrose, a former environment minister who impressed many Canadians as interim leader, looks like a natural fit. You could also imagine Durham MP Erin O’Toole in that picture. The foreign-affairs critic has a background in the military and proven appeal to the Greater Toronto suburbs: He represents one of them.
Peter MacKay, the former cabinet minister who negotiated the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties, is well liked within the party and has a reputation as a moderate on social issues. Michael Fortier served from the Senate in the first Harper government, but lost in his bid to enter the House. He is fluently bilingual, a social progressive but fiscal conservative, and would bolster the party’s fortunes in Quebec. Quebec City MP Gérard Deltell might be in the mix. And there will be others.
Mr. Scheer’s resignation provides a splendid opportunity for the Conservative Party to strengthen and broaden its coalition. If its members choose wisely, the party could be well-positioned to win the next federal election. But, first, Conservative supporters should focus on that freeze-frame. Think of the caucus behind the victorious leader. Who represents the values that could produce such a caucus? Then choose.
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