The early days of the federal election show that both the Conservatives and Liberals are reaching for NDP voters, an indication to political observers of a shifting approach by all three parties.
On Aug. 23, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole proposed making it a legal requirement for large companies to include worker representation on their boards. The following day, he promised to change laws to protect workers’ pensions in the case of corporate bankruptcy or restructuring.
A Liberal press release took a shot at the NDP over its intention to cut “funding for important programs that are protecting and creating thousands of green jobs for workers and cutting pollution.” Another acknowledged the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Communism and Nazism, while a third promised more money for health care.
Meanwhile, the NDP attacked both the Liberals and Conservatives for attempts to reach for their voters. One press release cast doubt on O’Toole’s commitment to workers, another committed to eliminating Liberal subsidies to “Big Oil” and a third slammed the Liberals’ “empty promises on climate change.”
Malcolm Bird, an associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg, says the Liberals and NDP “have migrated to being concerned about urban, educated elite middle class, professional class people” and embraced “identity politic space that embraces feminism, LGBTQ type identities, and minorities … at the expense of representing average working people.”
“So there’s been a void opening up and, Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives recognized that unionized, working folks don’t see themselves represented as much as they used to amongst the NDP and the Liberals as well. They make up a very big chunk of the of the electorate, and that’s who [the Conservatives] are going for.”
University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper believes modern politics has fallen to postmaterialism, a political philosophy that prioritizes goals such as environmentalism and gender equality over people’s more immediate and practical concerns.
“The traditional parties basically made appeals on the basis of the material interests of the people they wanted to have support them. … But that has nothing to do with wokeness,” Cooper said in an interview.
“There’s a big disconnect when you have people who think about ideas more than about their actual on-the-ground interests, and it really tends to put off people who have always voted NDP or even Liberal.”
PSAC and O’Toole vs Trudeau and Singh
Talk of forced COVID-19 vaccination of federal employees allowed the Conservative Party to align with public sector unions in ways the other main parties refuse to. The Liberal government wants federal workers and air and train passengers to be double-vaccinated, but O’Toole says negative COVID-19 tests would be sufficient for such workers and passengers.
Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) president Chris Aylward, who represents 180,000 members, said the termination of federal public servants who refuse to get vaccinated is “totally unacceptable.”
“It’s very concerning to us when national party leaders are making statements around discipline, around terminations when it comes to these vaccinations. That is totally unacceptable to us,” he told CTV News.
Undaunted, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh would not align with the union, telling the Globe and Mail that “[P]rogressive discipline–up to and including termination … may be necessary.”
Singh’s stance is a surprise result of wedge politics for Bird.
“What is amazing to me is how this is coming from the left, the centre left. … Losing your job because you don’t want a medical procedure to your body is quite strong, to put it mildly,” he said.
“It goes to further illustrate this cleavage between the left and the NDP and working folks, and of course the unions that represent them.”
‘Alienating People of Faith’
While Roman Catholics were once an important part of the Liberal base, and the first federal NDP leader was Baptist minister Tommy Douglas, Bird says those parties “are alienating people of faith … and they are not welcome.”
“It’s best illustrated by the matter of abortion and being tolerant of divergent views within the party. In this regard, the Conservatives have a bigger tent. That is, they are open to more diversity of perspectives with regards to social issues, but also in terms of being open to people of faith.”
He also believes classical liberals and fiscally responsible ones feel less comfortable with the current Liberal party. “[The Liberals] have swung to the left, and are seeking to scoop a lot of the NDP support.”
Tories Lose Support on Prairies
Although the Conservative Party may have gained supporters by being less strident in its conservatism, that decision has lost it support as well.
The party’s embrace of a “carbon price” and its reach for central Canadian swing voters have caused some who are already feeling Western alienation under Trudeau to turn to alternative parties like the PPC and Maverick Party. Feeling he has a stronger base of support, former Ontario Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who is backed by social conservatives, has decided to run in an Alberta riding for this election.
This watered-down conservatism has diminished enthusiasm for the Conservative Party on the Prairies, according to Cooper.
“I haven’t heard much enthusiasm among people I’ve talked to here about the Conservatives. There’s a kind of grudging, ‘Well, I guess we’ll have to vote for O’Toole because we’re not going to vote for Trudeau or the NDP,’” he said.
“If you’re going to give votes to Conservatives not out of enthusiasm but because it’s the least worse alternative, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.”