PCs build­ing an ex­trem­ist plat­form

Waterloo Region Record - - Editorials & Comment -

There’s a tru­ism about how po­lit­i­cal party lead­er­ship races are dif­fer­ent than elec­tion cam­paigns. It’s worth dis­cussing in light of what’s hap­pen­ing with the On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive cam­paign this week.

It goes some­thing like this: Chas­ing party lead­er­ship, can­di­dates need to play to their base and not alien­ate fac­tions within the party. But in an elec­tion, the ob­jec­tive is dif­fer­ent since par­ties are com­pet­ing for votes across the spec­trum. We’ve seen this play out re­peat­edly over the years, but this par­tic­u­lar lead­er­ship race, and the elec­tion fol­low­ing so close on its heels, pro­vides a dif­fer­ent dy­namic.

Seek­ing the lead­er­ship, can­di­dates will make prom­ises that appeal to their fol­low­ers and appeal to party mem­bers not yet de­cided. Doug Ford is do­ing that, first by promis­ing to scrap any sort of car­bon tax and sec­ond by promis­ing to re­visit On­tario’s sex educa­tion cur­ricu­lum. With the first he’s ap­peal­ing to a broad swath of con­ser­va­tives to whom any sort of car­bon pric­ing is ab­hor­rent. With the sec­ond he’s go­ing right af­ter so­cial con­ser­va­tives within the party who felt spurned and be­trayed by Pa­trick Brown and want back into the tent.

Ford has gut­ted the party’s elec­tion plat­form, re­leased with much fan­fare and iron­i­cally called The Peo­ple’s Plat­form. With no car­bon tax, he cuts $4 bil­lion in rev­enue that would have paid for other plat­form prom­ises. By by go­ing back on Pa­trick Brown’s sex ed com­mit­ment, he’s sig­nalling the party un­der his lead­er­ship would be solidly so­cially con­ser­va­tive.

And his rad­i­cal procla­ma­tions are hav­ing an ef­fect. The other front-run­ners, Chris­tine El­liott and Caro­line Mul­roney, have agreed on killing the car­bon tax. El­liott has agreed on sex ed, although, in­ter­est­ingly, Mul­roney has not — at least not yet.

Typ­i­cally, all these can­di­dates could beg, bor­row and steal each oth­ers’ po­si­tions in an ef­fort to at­tract enough mem­bers to win the lead­er­ship. Then, with a com­fort­able pe­riod be­fore an elec­tion, they could morph those po­si­tions into some­thing more mod­er­ate vot­ers might be at­tracted to.

Not this time. The lead­er­ship race will barely be set­tled March 10 be­fore the elec­tion cam­paign kicks into high gear. How will the new PC leader man­age to soften those ex­treme po­si­tions to calm the fears of mod­er­ate vot­ers? The an­swer is, they won’t.

The pol­icy de­ci­sions these camps make now will form the cob­bled to­gether elec­tion plat­form for who­ever wins. No car­bon pric­ing. Re­vis­it­ing sex educa­tion.

Here’s the thing though. While those mea­sures may appeal to so­cial and fis­cal con­ser­va­tives, they won’t fly as well with On­tar­i­ans. Polls show fully half sup­port sex educa­tion while only a third op­pose it, and also that most peo­ple agree some form of car­bon pric­ing is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially since if we don’t do it Ot­tawa will do it for us.

All this is prob­a­bly good news for the NDP and even the poll-lag­ging Lib­er­als. But it’s not good news for the PCs if they want to form the next govern­ment.

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