The CBC’s Catherine Cullen’s insight back in June regarding the Conservative leadership drama turned out to be prophetic. Writing of the various levels of complexity that could ultimately lead to an Erin O’Toole victory, Cullen observed:
“While some Conservatives have suggested that any public discussion of social issues such as gay marriage or abortion prevents the party from broadening its voter base, two of the four candidates in the leadership race — Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan — are social conservatives. Their supporters could prove to be kingmakers in the race if no clear winner emerges on the first ballot.”
And that’s just how it played out two weeks ago. O’Toole won handily enough on the third ballot to make it convincing and now the Conservatives begin the process of attempting to bring the various factions of their party together.
It won’t be easy, since Canadian voters are enduring a pandemic like nothing they have seen before in their lifetimes. Their livelihoods are under threat. A sincere thrust is emerging concerning the need to seriously challenge our frequently unmentioned racist tendencies. While pushed to the rear during COVID-19, the climate change debate rages forward. Dedicated efforts at legitimate gender equality are gathering steam. And perhaps transcending all of this is the threat of an uncertain future. Canadians aren’t in the place they were in when the Conservative leadership campaign got underway.
On the other hand, this country has proved difficult to comprehend when it comes to political persuasions and temperament. Is it liberal or conservative in sentiment, socialist or individualistic in its outlook? We get into these specious arguments about the West being Cons and the East surely Libs. I grew up in Calgary in a time when Liberals were well respected and have spent the last half of my life in supposedly “leftist” Ontario, where much of the governing was led by Conservatives.
The reality is that Canadians are a dose of everything. Political identities are convenient for the opinion-minded but remain a blunt instrument to describe what Robertson Davies said were “divisions on a ground.”
Federal Liberals aren’t the Liberals of old, when the party stood for individualism and market economics. And Conservatives? Hard to tell. For many, O’Toole’s victory speech sounded much more like Justin Trudeau than Stephen Harper:
“I believe that whether you are Black, white, brown or from any race or creed, whether you are LGBT or straight, whether you are an Indigenous Canadian or have joined the Canadian family three weeks ago or three generations ago. Whether you’re doing well or barely getting by. Whether you worship on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or not at all … you are an important part of Canada and you have a home in the Conservative Party of Canada.”
Some pundits stated that by courting social conservatives, the new leader was giving Trudeau ammunition for the next election. Others maintain that, by casting a larger blue tent, O’Toole could become the prime minister’s new nightmare. Again, which is it? No one truly knows because Canadians aren’t that predictable.
We do live in a more polarized world, but it’s more about nationalism versus progressivism than liberal versus conservative. Our world is changing and Canada is changing right along with it. It’s an uglier world, not as predictable, and clearly more volatile. The effect of all of this, fueled by the endless media coverage of everything political, has left many Canadians disgruntled about politics and distrustful of politicians.
It remains a truism that the majority of Canadians are hard-working, intelligent, capable of showing compassion beyond their own families, are reasonable and reasoning, and believe that historical injustices should be addressed and systemically overcome. What most are not are slaves to identity politics. A significant component of the Canadian citizenry doesn’t subscribe to any political party and continue to wonder how politics can become so divisive in a time when we all have to face the same troubling future together.
As difficult as it is for many to accept, these are just the kind of people that might embrace Erin O’Toole’s large tent message. They live in every portion of the country and they are fatigued by the caustic and endlessly argumentative nature of public discourse, especially when this pandemic works its harsh path through this country. They checked out of politics some time ago; O’Toole has a chance to be the one to bring them back in and shouldn’t be underestimated.