Watch­ing the Con­ser­va­tives

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the Con­ser­va­tive Party’s lead­er­ship de­bate in Monc­ton re­cently. I thought I was likely to flick it off pretty quickly — 14 can­di­dates, most of them men in suits, all fight­ing for the same mid-term mid­dle ground.

Af­ter ex­pect­ing to be bored by the same­ness, I found it strangely re­fresh­ing.

Clearly, you can poke fun at the bad French some dis­played — but how would you like to cam­paign in a sec­ond lan­guage that you were still try­ing to get to grips with?

But there was far more — if the Harper gov­ern­ment was your clear­est ex­pe­ri­ence with the Tory party, you never would have guessed that there was such a broad range of ideas in the tent.

Now, it’s kind of funny that or­ga­niz­ers put long shot Dan Lind­say on the far left of the podium as he faced the crowd, be­cause he sounded (and looked) the most leftie of the bunch, while at the far right was Rick Peter­son, with his re­peated cam­paign prom­ise to drop all cor­po­rate taxes for mas­sive growth. (He’s for­get­ting, I guess, that the last time cor­po­rate taxes were cut for growth, un­der Harper, the cor­po­ra­tions just kept all the money in their bank ac­counts and laughed all the way to the ex­panded ex­ec­u­tive pay pack­age.) It was like look­ing at the left wingtip of the party, and at the other end, the right wingtip.

The other can­di­dates had their own is­sues and ap­proaches, and some weren’t afraid to tus­sle — some pil­ing on Michael Chong for his car­bon tax plan, and Chong fir­ing back at the in­tol­er­ance-based cam­paign­ing of Dr. Kel­lie Leitch, and at Chris Alexander’s fail­ure to stop “lock her up” chants about Al­berta Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley at a week­end rally.

Deepak Obhrai is not likely go­ing to win with his cur­rent ap­proach (any­one would ad­mit he’s a long shot), but wow — a Con­ser­va­tive with an ac­tual on­stage sense of hu­mour, and not afraid to use it.

And yes, some slipped quickly — and some darkly — into their scripted talk­ing points, like Leitch and her bizarre sug­ges­tion that this coun­try is so dan­ger­ous we all need to have the op­tion to be armed with mace or pep­per spray.

I’ll ad­mit I have a prob­lem with Leitch’s in­tol­er­ance pol­i­tics. Her wrap-up lines sound like they were de­vised by a back­room team fol­low­ing fo­cus group met­rics, and some­one should tell her to lose that tight half-smile she throws in af­ter de­liv­er­ing her scripted sound-bite lines.

When she gets those lines out, the lit­tle smile makes her looks proud that she’s just de­liv­ered a school­yard zinger about how you’re so poor you had to get your shoes at the thrift store. (Can­di­date Maxime Bernier’s de­scrip­tion of her as “Karaoke Trump” alone was worth the price of ad­mis­sion.)

There are at least one other I could do with­out — Brad Trost, who tweeted just be­fore the de­bate that he’d have been out there shout­ing, “Lock her up” along with the Al­berta crowd, is clearly rid­ing the fringe train on the short track to elim­i­na­tion.

There were mad­den­ing bits: the list­ing of the num­ber of chil­dren and dogs they all have — ev­ery­one try to be more av­er­age folks, I guess — was a waste of time. Still, I kept watch­ing — and I’m not even in the de­mo­graphic of del­e­gates they want listening.

I ex­pect things to get more bit­ter as the race goes on, and there may still be en­trants who pop up and change the whole dy­namic.

It’s early; sev­eral of the long, long line of suits will drop out of the race. Those who re­main will have to up their game — but for the most part, the evening’s hu­man­ity was a nice change. East­ern Pas­sages

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