The Conservative Party’s infighting and ascendent rivals in the People’s Party and Maverick Party could be seen as a repeat of the 1990s when the Liberals ruled Canada over a divided political right. But some political scientists say there are additional factors that over time will influence the outcome this time around.
Ted Morton has seen this movie before. He won an Alberta election as a Reform Party senator-in-waiting in 1998, took office as a Progressive Conservative (PC) MLA in 2004, and lost his seat to a Wildrose candidate in 2012. The former Alberta PC leadership candidate said the Conservative Party’s problems start at the top.
“O’Toole reversed ground on things like the carbon tax [and offered] not much on pipelines. Certainly on the social issues, [he] went way to the left or to the centre, and it didn’t work,” Morton said in an interview.
“In terms of his campaigning, his appearance, his presence, O’ Toole was much better than Scheer, but it still didn’t work,” he said, referring to former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign performance during the 2019 election.
In its first post-election meeting on Oct. 5, the Conservative caucus voted to give MPs the power to potentially replace O’Toole and launch another leadership race. O’Toole told reporters after the meeting that he takes responsibility for the election defeat and is “resolutely committed to reviewing every element of our campaign.”
Several CPC insiders, including MPs Pierre Poilievre, Michael Chong, and Garnett Genuis, have spoken out in support of O’Toole since the election, saying division is not the way forward.
Genuis tweeted on Sept. 23: “Conservatives should stay united, defend our principles, and remain focused on giving Canadians better government. We must learn the lessons of the election, share constructive feedback, and remain united behind Erin O’Toole.”
Prospects for New Rivals
Amid these developments, the Western independence movement is very much active. Twenty-nine candidates for the Maverick Party, formerly called Wexit Canada, earned 35,178 votes on Sept. 20. Then on Oct. 2, interim leader Jay Hill said his party wants to run candidates in place for all 107 western and territorial ridings before the next election.
The offensive could place Maverick in the footsteps of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada (PPC), which tripled its national vote share from 1.6 percent in 2019 to 4.9 percent in this election, winning 841,005 votes. Had those PPC voters chosen the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), it would have added 24 seats to the 119 it won.
Former Ontario MP Derek Sloan earned 2.6 percent of the vote in Banff-Airdrie, Alberta. Should he successfully launch his proposed True North Party, the CPC could face three rivals in the political space.
Morton, a former professor of political science at the University of Calgary, doesn’t see much hope for the Conservatives’ new rival parties, however. He dubs the Maverick Party the “Bloc West,’ analogous to the Bloc Quebecois, and believes it has poor prospects.
He also doesn’t think the PPC will enjoy much support.
“It did well this time because it got a lot of COVID protest votes,” he said, but noted that if the COVID-19 issue recedes then the party would be stripped of the “protest” votes it received.
University of Lethbridge political science professor Geoffrey Hale shares a similar view.
“Mr. Bernier gained traction in opposing pandemic restrictions before and during the recent election, thus enabling him to carve out distinctive territory on an intensely—if somewhat lopsidedly—contested issue,” Hale told The Epoch Times.
But Malcolm Bird, a political science professor at the University of Winnipeg, believes the PPC is “more than just a one-shot protest party” and has some policy planks that both the Conservatives and Liberals should consider.
“What’s valuable about the PPC is their willingness to talk about pretty important issues that we should be talking about, and which are significant in terms of alienation of the West and particularly Alberta’s relationship with the rest of Canada,” Bird said in an interview.
“They believe in pipelines and in the value of the oil and gas sector. … I don’t know how that somehow became [labelled] right-wing or fringe.”
How the Liberals May Fare
In its second federal election, in 1993, the Reform Party garnered 52 seats and 18.7 percent of the vote, leaving the incumbent PCs with just 2 seats and 16 percent of the vote.
The Liberals were unbeatable until Reform’s successor, the Canadian Alliance, merged with the PCs. The Liberals were reduced to a minority in 2004 and lost power to the Harper Conservatives in 2006.
Morton said the Tories may be able to avoid a new era of “perpetual Liberal rule” by reaching new Canadians as they did in the Harper era.
Bird says the downside of Liberal pandemic spending, such as higher public debt and inflation, will make fiscal responsibility and wealth creation more important and hand the Conservatives an opportunity.
“In general that does bode well for the Conservatives because they generally are seen as [more fiscally responsible]. But if you are going to make an austerity program, which I think we’re all going to be forced into, you’re going to have to figure out how to sell it,” he said.
Hale also believes that changing times may lead to changing governments, though the timeline and how the political right will sort itself out remain unclear.
“During times of severe social and economic stress, statist policies tend to attract popular support until bureaucratic overreach, leadership arrogance, and declining living standards for the majority produce some form of political and intellectual backlash,” he said.
“It is far too soon to say how long this process will take to mature in Canadian politics, or how it will affect the ongoing dynamics of defining what it means to be ‘conservative’ in different parts of Canada.”