PCs building an extremist platform
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.