Trump­ist views don’t add up for Con­ser­va­tives

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - OPINION -

stephen harper spent the bet­ter part of two decades ham­mer­ing Pre­ston Man­ning’s re­form Party into a shape that could be palat­able to a plu­ral­ity of Cana­di­ans, in all re­gions of the coun­try. his crown­ing po­lit­i­cal achieve­ment was the Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity vic­tory of May 5, 2011.

The Canadian Trump­ist move­ment, led by the charisma-chal­lenged Kel­lie leitch, the oleagi­nous steven Blaney and soon the trash-talk­ing Kevin O’leary, is un­rav­el­ling harper’s life’s work by the day.

you may re­call how, in the sum­mer of 1991, Man­ning — with pol­icy ad­vice from an am­bi­tious young stephen harper — made a con­certed push into On­tario, es­tab­lish­ing rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial can­di­dates. some of those early meet­ings were marked by what later be­came known as bozo erup­tions: anti-im­mi­grant, anti-que­bec, sex­ist or in­tem­per­ate re­marks that painted re­form in a xeno­pho­bic light.

Man­ning worked hard to ex­cise that el­e­ment from his move­ment. But in a grass­roots party such as re­form was, the fil­ter is lim­ited. if you lib­er­ate speech you’re go­ing to get some nuts. There were elec­toral con­se­quences. Though re­form broke through in the 1993 elec­tion, tak­ing 52 seats, only one was east of Man­i­toba.

The his­tory is rel­e­vant be­cause it re­minds us of the im­por­tant ide­o­log­i­cal shift harper made on his road to last­ing power. he not only learned French, but be­came flu­ent. he set aside re­form’s one-size-fits-all con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism in favour of, in 2006, recog­ni­tion of the Que­be­cois as a na­tion. Though re­port­edly an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian him­self, harper re­pu­di­ated any re­li­gious-con­ser­va­tive drift in the party, tamp­ing down ef­forts to re­vive the abor­tion de­bate.

From an elec­toral stand­point, harper em­braced new Cana­di­ans. That ef­fort was crit­i­cal to the party’s win­ning key Greater Toronto area seats in 2011. in that sense the party’s most con­tro­ver­sial gam­bit of the 2015 elec­tion, an at­tempt to cap­i­tal­ize on re­sent­ment of the niqab, the veil worn by some Mus­lim women, was reck­less, op­por­tunis­tic and out of char­ac­ter. in 2015, new Cana­di­ans in On­tario shifted en masse back to their old home in the lib­eral party.

Which brings us back to leitch and Blaney. it would be un­fair to sug­gest th­ese two rep­re­sent main­stream Con­ser­va­tive opin­ion. But leitch has con­sumed much of the oxy­gen in the party’s lead­er­ship race, to be de­cided in May, due to her im­mi­gra­tion views. she wants to test im­mi­grants for Canadian val­ues. Blaney wants to ban the niqab. Th­ese are naked bids to ride Trump’s coat­tails.

O’leary (who has yet to of­fi­cially en­ter the race but is ex­pected to within days) is pro-im­mi­gra­tion and an avowed plu­ral­ist. But his style is all Trump. he seems to be­lieve that, if he talks enough trash about Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, the global pop­ulist wave will carry him up. The net ef­fect is to draw at­ten­tion and money away from other can­di­dates much more in line with the prin­ci­ples of harper-era con­ser­vatism: pro-free trade; fis­cally con­ser­va­tive; so­cially pro­gres­sive or neu­tral; proim­mi­gra­tion. This list in­cludes Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and lisa raitt, among oth­ers.

here’s the prob­lem for Tories: The elec­toral to­pog­ra­phy of Canada hasn’t fun­da­men­tally changed. lib­eral sup­port re­mains at close to 44 per cent, ac­cord­ing to poll ag­gre­ga­tor Three­hun­dredeight.com, with the new democrats at about 15 per cent.

even as­sum­ing the ex­ist­ing first­past-the-post sys­tem re­mains in place in 2019, the Con­ser­va­tives will need to move from un­der 30 per cent, to close to 40 per cent, for a win. The quest for those votes will lead them di­rectly back to the new Cana­di­ans in the GTA, and whom leitch and Blaney are alien­at­ing right now.

This may be the era of Trump, down south. But elec­toral math is still elec­toral math. Twit­ter.com/mden­tandt

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