I wasn't necessarily thinking of letting this year pass without my annual tirade against contemporary conservatism (the label “modern” would be oxymoronic) or what conservatism in general has become, and yet I hadn’t really planned anything, either.
It took the appointment of noisome video stuntman Pierre Poilievre (a.k.a. Skippy, or #peepee as he’s known on Twitter) to leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and the instalment of scarcely credible whacko Danielle Smith as premier of Alberta, to tip my hand. How can I not comment on such a Cirque Désolé?
To begin, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill, greed-mongering, main-street conservatives blindly cheering on de-regulation with no idea of its long-term costs, giddy at the prospect of lower taxes with no clue how government will pay for the health-care, social programs, infrastructure repairs and climate- disaster bailouts they demand, or fervently praying for a de facto petrocracy as blind to the environmental cost of profligate resource extraction as the now-mythical HarperCons with zero awareness how this has already impacted their children’s future.
Poilievre and Smith are all that in spades, of course, but go far beyond in sharing—and voicing—decidedly Libertarian and populist views that saw them ascend to their respective positions by actively courting radical fringe elements of national and Alberta conservatism, respectively, which, by dint of Alberta’s far-right crown within Canada, turn out to be the same unsettling thing: Luddite freedumb convoys, uninformed anti-vaxx crusaders, zealous religious nutbars, LGBTQophobes, misogynist incels, lobotomized yellow- vesters and insurrectionist racists whose ranks include closet white nationalists with “F*ck Trudeau” stickers on their trucks and not a few Confederate and Nazi flags concealed among them. How did Canada come to this crossroads?
Having watched how leading a parade of pariahs concluded in the United States under Donald Trump, that we have politicians having pictures taken with these people should be truly scary to a majority of Canadians. And in case you didn’t notice, it wasn’t hard to draw this cabal—which represents several workable Halloween costumes—from the floorboards and seams of the Big Blue Tent. Following the Trump playbook, Poilievre and Smith literally scanned the landscape for the tribal campfires sporting the most pitchforks and torches, then figuratively invited them over for coffee and doughnuts, no vetting required.
No surprise, then, that Poilievre began his own public flirtations by literally bringing coffee and doughnuts to freedumb convoyers during their Ottawa occupation. Now, of course, with the inquiry into the government’s use of the Emergency Act underway, and senior police peeps caught lying in their tracks, Poilievre is mum on the bro-down used to leverage his “let’s make Canada the freest nation on Earth” message a risible cri de coeur, BTW, given Canada’s perennial top-10 rank in the global Human and Personal Freedom Indices—ahead of the U.S.).
This reeks of the Scheer-and-O’Toolian CPC prequels of pandering to far-right islands to secure leadership then immediately dashing for the centre ground occupied by most Canadian voters and going silent on fringe positions around abortion, gun control, and climate change. Smith, an unrepentant RWNJ from the get- go with Alberta’s upstart tea-party-styled Wild Rose provincial nationalists (can’t really call them a party) may, now that she’s in power, have even further to retreat given the depth to which her foot is embedded in her mouth after pronouncing cigarettes healthy, cancer self-controllable, Alberta sovereignty from federal law constitutional (it isn’t and won’t be), the health-care system an enemy, and the unvaccinated “the most discriminated-against people” known in her lifetime. All of which would be embarrassing if it weren’t Alberta— which itself is embarrassing enough.
How did we get here? Well, it seems these characters have more than selfishness going for them, they also have entitlement. In fact, since Harper’s undisguised arrogance (“You won’t recognize Canada when I’m done with it”), Canadian cons have acted as if they deserve to govern on (unsupportable and demonstrably untrue) moral and economic grounds, mewling, after every lost election, about a “popular vote” that doesn’t exist in a multi-party system. Compared to the U.S. where the non-Con/Con divide runs between 50/50 and 55/45, in Canada it’s 65/35 in most elections, often 70/30.
The reality is a majority of Canadians do not want a conservative government, and haven’t for some time (the centrist LPC providing all the corporate conservatism needed). This has served only to make federal conservatives more desperate (remember robocalls?—at least we don’t have legal gerrymandering and vote suppression like the U.S.) and when they do achieve power, seem bent on using it not as an instrument of construction (which would include the evolution of society and adaptation to changing conditions) but as one of destruction, with a mantra of “tear it all down.” This is more than apparent provincially under Doug Ford and Jason Kenney (and Smith) et al. Today’s conservative playbook is the Trump playbook—enlisting populist Make-Something-Great-Agains to rail against institutions, norms, and democratic conventions by calling into question their veracity (carbon pricing, fake news, fake elections, etc.). In fact, they seem less focused on fashioning a polity of equitable governance than fine-tuning the machine to deceive voters into thinking institutionalized problems—economic, inflationary, interprovincial, domestic and global—are entirely the fault of the governing party when, in fact, these are functionally impossible.
So, like the frog set in water that slowly comes to a boil before the animal can even realize it is dying, here we are. Make no mistake: Poilievre and Smith are terra incognita for Canada, but not without precedent elsewhere. Expect them and their ilk, more hell-bent on rage-farming than ever, to hitch their broken wagons to literally every anti-government conspiracy passing by.