Could the Conservative establishment be at risk?
There were “Make America Great Again’’ hats, there were signs with Donald Trump’s name.
There was a panel devoted exclusively to the topic of whether Trumpism could be exported to Canada, and more than one other session made mention of the Trump effect.
It’s clear that conservatives at the Manning Centre conference were thinking about the political ramifications of the seismic political shift in the U.S. in recent months.
But does it matter what those particular conservatives think?
In the Populism Project, The Canadian Press is exploring the factors that led to Trump’s victory, how it is changing politics in Canada and testing them against the current economic, social and political climate of Canada to see whether the potential exists for the same kind of political upheaval here.
Held in Ottawa every year, the Manning Conference attracts a particular swath of the conservative movement _ the selfdescribed policy and politics junkies eager to chew on the issues of the day. Put another way, suggested Toronto politician Doug Ford, not exactly the average voter.
“Common folk don’t come to events like this,’’ he told a panel at the conference called “Down with The Elites?’’
It’s the so-called common folk understood to have propelled Trump to victory, not just in the general presidential election.
What put him in the running for that at all was his complete overthrow of the American Republican establishment to win the U.S. state primaries and get the nomination in the first place.
The Canadian conservative establishment also hasn’t been immune to upset.
The Reform movement of the 1980s and 1990s rose up in response to a belief the federal Progressive Conservatives had lost their way.
Then there was Rob Ford’s mayoral victory in Toronto, argued his brother.
In that campaign, the conservative establishment supported the provincial liberal running against Rob, Doug told the panel, but Ford triumphed anyway thanks to his connection directly with voters.
No one should be naive enough to think the establishment won’t turn again, he said.
“Don’t kid yourself, they are all good buddies at the end of the day,’’ he said.
Frustration with the conservative establishment in Alberta is also what led to the splintering of the Progressive Conservative party there, argued Derek Fildebrandt, the finance critic for the Wildrose party that was the result of that splinter.
“The old, left liberal clique drove the PC party into the ditch,’’ he told a panel on Alberta conservatism.