The morning after an election returned a parliament whose composition is eerily reminiscent of (OK, almost identical to) the last, Canada’s conservative-controlled mainstream media are already busy telling us why we should be pissed off. No mention, of course—as per the entire campaign—of the filibustering and gamesmanship by Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MPs over critical legislation that actually made the election call a reasonable gamble. Label the election what you’d like—power grab, waste of time or money—but it was simply the use of an established lever of democracy in a bid to more effectively govern free of the mewling and obstructionism of conservatives.
In the midst of a global pandemic and triple emergencies on climate, biodiversity and equality/human development, being able to adapt quickly to these existential demands and enact legislation to meliorate them has been significantly constrained by ideologically hampered conservatives. You only need have watched the campaign by the CPC’s latest leader Erin O’Toole, to understand what has been unfolding in parliament. Time and time again conservatives attempted to ignite faux outrage over everything from cooked-up scandals to carbon-pricing to vaccine procurement; time and again they got it wrong, but not without encumbering the process to the detriment of Canadians, who continue to suffer catastrophic property and business losses, illness and fatalities. The world is literally and figuratively on fire, and where most parties aim to keep Canada from burning, the hapless, ham-fisted CPC simply doesn’t get it.
Neither do their voters, who howl over the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) again losing the “popular vote.” Newsflash: There’s no such thing in a multi-party, parliamentary democracy. But here’s a takeaway: if you look at all parties represented, 61 per cent of us voted progressive (LPC, NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party of Canada-GPC), and 39 per cent conservative (CPC/regressive People’s Party of Canada—PPC). While a 60 to 70 per cent non-conservative vote is well within the bounds of normality, Maxime Bernier’s PPC’s pulling almost 250 per cent of the vote share of the Green Party of Canada is a troubling development. Like the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance that preceded it, the PPC signals re-entrenchment of organized far-right elements in Canadian politics. Such recurrent lunatic fringes don’t feature in the LPC or NDP landscapes, yet have always defined the topography of Canadian conservatism.
Though existing under different names, Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party (PCP) dates back to 1854. Things changed in the 1990s, however, when social-cons, neocons, and Blue Tories drifted, slowly at first, from the PCP to Reform, then in droves to its successor, the Alliance. Now under control of a Red Tory faction, the PCP embraced more popular socially liberal approaches to certain issues but still fell in support in the 1997 and 2000 elections, barely increasing representation in the House of Commons where Reform and then Alliance dominated opposition benches. Although former PM Joe Clark was brought back from the dead to improve Tory standings, he retired in 2003. Peter MacKay, chosen in a leadership contest to replace Clark, immediately negotiated with Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper to merge the two parties—reneging on an agreement with another PCP leadership candidate, David Orchard, in which he’d promised never to merge with the Alliance in exchange for support on the ballot. Et tu Bruté? Later that year, the PCP and Alliance officially merged to create the odious Conservative Party of Canada, to which Stephen Harper was elected leader in 2004 and whose O’Toolian dregs lost Monday’s election. Under Harper, the CPC platform emphasized Blue Tory fiscal restraint, full-throttle fossil-fuel extraction, increased military spending and, of course, tax cuts.
We’ll forget about the darkness of the 2006-2015 decade in which Harper was in power, but after being defeated by Justin Trudeau’s rejuvenated LPC in 2015 and resigning, Andrew Scheer beat out Maxime Bernier to win leadership of the CPC.
Delivering a smirking monologue of manufactured outrage over faux scandals in opposition, failed insurance-salesman Scheer and his American passport went down in flames in 2019 and disappeared from view, having only budged the needle on LPC seats from majority into minority territory and caused his defeated rival Bernier to launch the populist PPC, a loony-bin we’ve now had to tune out through two separate elections.
Though he was a flip-flopping, obfuscating, prevaricating fool who tried to keep a lid on the racist Yellow Vesters, climate deniers, and rabid pro-lifers in his fissioning party, the CPC replaced Scheer with a veritable Doppelganger—Erin O’Toole, whose Red Tory attempts to claim LPC terrain on climate suffered from the same Right Wing Nut Job reality-check. None of this helped conservatives’ fortunes as they’ve never broken the 40 per cent vote barrier.
Unlike other forms of life, that conservative voters don’t learn from errors is axiomatic. Over 70 years, Alberta has elected at least 29 conservatives out of its 34 ridings every election. Even after godhead Stephen Harper (and sidekick Jason Kenney) changed the federal equalization formula to favour Ontario and Quebec, where Harper hoped to curry votes, knowing Albertans could be counted on to punch themselves in the face and elect 29 cons no matter what. They willingly did so then and willingly do so today, all while blaming Justin Trudeau for everything from Harper’s equalization boner to Kenney’s provincial COVID debacle of reckless endangerment causing death.
Like most Canadians, I wasn’t in the mood for an election. But after listening to the CPC dribble misinformation on everything from carbon-pricing to the pandemic over the past 18 months, I came around to the idea. In my mind, a well-spent $600 million doesn’t compare to the $1.7 billion Jason Kenney gambled away on a pipeline, or the $2.3 billion Ontario premier Doug Ford received from the Feds for COVID-19 relief that went unused for ideological reasons. Basically $15/Canadian was spent to determine the country’s direction during a critical time in human history. Given that the majority of funds went to hiring people (jobs!) to run the election, that seems like a bargain.
Leslie Anthony is a science/environment writer and author who holds a doctorate in reversing political spin.