(Image Credit: Leonard J Matthews on Flickr; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
Replacing Erin O’Toole with another leader will not improve CPC’s chances of winning an election – not until the party works seriously to rid itself of the structural weaknesses that makes it uncompetitive at the ballot box.
If a person has severe constipation, one of the effects of that malady will be that the person will get a splitting headache. Taking a Tylenol to cure the headache will not remedy the underlying problem, with the result that after a brief respite, the headache will recur.
The proper remedy is a good, strong laxative. And over the long term, a diet with proper amounts of fiber in it.
The above point is, of course, well known to everyone. But when it comes to other arenas of life, many people lose sight of the principle underlying it. I believe that Canadian Conservatives fall in that group when it comes to assessing the reasons for their failure to win elections.
While a party leader is the face of the party, he or she is not the party. Yet somehow, every electoral failure of the CPC is immediately seen as solely the failure of the leader and the policies / platform adopted in the election campaign. At times, accusations against the leader also become par for the course. Sometimes, these are causes of mirth. For example, in relation to both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, I saw the following accusations:
- He lost because he was pandering to the far right, and
- He lost because he was pandering to leftist voters.
It is tempting to say that both can’t be true at the same time – but we are talking about politics here, so the possibility cannot be ruled out, especially with the flip-flops that are a staple of democratic politics.
What I haven’t seen is many people in the Conservative fold advocating for a total reboot of what the party sees as the future of Canada, and how it reaches out to voters in a manner well calibrated enough to win their allegiance over this vision.
Over the course of the past 19 months, I have tried to gain an understanding of the factors that make CPC uncompetitive in elections. With the help of many online friends, I was able to write 9 articles touching on the various factors at play (a compilation of links to these articles can be found at ‘All In One Place’). In terms of placing the blame for an electoral defeat on the head of the party leader (and the inner circle of advisors), I think my last article in that series, ‘Missing Arsenal’ is very relevant.
My contention in this article is that this blaming, and subsequent replacement of the said leader with another, is the equivalent of taking a Tylenol when the headache is caused by constipation; the new leader will face the same structural weaknesses that the party suffers from, and so is unlikely to succeed.
Except that at some point, a leader (and thus the party) WILL succeed, DESPITE the same weaknesses.
This is actually bad news, because whatever policies, platform and strategy led them to victory at the polls will be seen as ‘the winning formula’, and thus the structural weaknesses will (yet again) be forgotten. And in the election following the initial victory, the party will have a degree of ‘incumbency advantage’, further relegating to the background the need for addressing the weaknesses. This will continue until voter fatigue with the government of the day kicks in, and the Conservatives get defeated again.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE
Perhaps based on the electoral history of the last few decades, a widely shared belief has formed that the Liberals and Conservatives alternate in government for durations of roughly a decade each. However, this belief is wrong on two counts:
- If the belief were true, then the political history of Canada would show equal total periods of tenure for the Liberals and Conservatives. However, as we know, that is not the case; the Liberals have been in power for about twice as long as the Conservatives, and
- More importantly, the belief ignores the changes in voter demographics that are occurring as we speak. In other words, as the prospectus for any financial product warns, “Past performance may not be an indicator of future returns.”
The first point above is self-explanatory. The second one needs some elaboration. There are major factors at play when it comes to changing voter demographics.
THE FOREIGN FACTOR
Firstly, with the high levels of immigration, voter expectations of what they expect from a government change. This is not to paint all immigrants with the same broad brush, but rather to point out that people who become Canadians at a later stage in their lives have a different set of prior experiences that inform their expectations from and apprehensions of the State (I have examined this in detail in one of my articles in the series mentioned above, viz., ‘Windward Islands’.)
Given the make-up of the ‘immigrant’ cohort, and in the presence of the ideas that they are exposed to in Canada, they are more likely to vote for parties other than CPC, viz., Liberal (largely), NDP (to a degree) and Green (in residual numbers).
Moreover, since immigrants tend to settle mostly in the large urban centres (where there is already a ‘disproportionately’ higher number of seats), the hold of Leftist parties on the number of parliamentary seats intensifies. As many people like to say (correctly, I think), “The election is all but over by the time it rolls through Toronto”. With higher ratio of foreign-born voters over time, it will become more and more difficult for CPC to win these seats, and thus to be in a position to form government (whether minority or majority).
The only response that I see to this from the Conservative base is to throw epithets (such as ‘Moronto’ or ‘low info voters’) at these voters. At the official level, I don’t believe I have seen any public comment from the party as to how they see this situation.
It shouldn’t need to be mentioned that you can’t win people over to your side by calling them names.
CATHING ‘EM YOUNG
Another complaint that I keep seeing on the Conservative side is that all our educational institutions (starting from grade schools and all the way to colleges and universities) have become ‘leftist indoctrination camps’.
Whether this belief is true or not is beside the point in this discussion. What matters here is that for anyone who actually believes it, it should be evident that as these children become voters, the Conservative party will struggle more and more to get their votes. And as the older voters die out, these children of today will form a greater percentage of total voters over time.
In sum, therefore, the belief that Conservatives and Liberals will continue to get a decade each of being in government in alternating manner is not borne out by the ground reality of changing voter demographics.
In light of the above discussion, I believe it is an urgent necessity for CPC to start attending to their structural weaknesses and thus begin to lay the foundation for their future success. In the series of articles that I wrote on this subject, I have given several suggestions (particularly in ‘Paging Sun Tzu – Part 2’ and ‘Missing Arsenal’). However, it is entirely likely that my list is not necessarily comprehensive (or even on the right track). What I am sure of being right about is that such an exercise is crucially necessary for the health of our politics.
Online, I enjoy the advantage of being on friendly terms with Canadians from across the political spectrum, and many of them who are firmly in the Liberal / Leftist camp have also said that a strong and viable CPC is desirable to ensure good governance from the Liberals.
I find it a pity that those running the CPC don’t share this eminently laudable view.