Conservative centrists are organizing, does this spell trouble for the Tories?

andrew scheer

It looks like a group of Conservatives is hoping to pull their party back to the centre.  Sprouting off the effort of Maclean’s columnist Scott Gilmore’s All-Canadian Red Tory Dinnertime Tour, the group is looking to form an outside pressure group to put a more moderate spin on the Tory brand.

It’s a direct reaction to the recent leadership campaign and betrays the cleavages within the Conservative party that the selection of Andrew Scheer papered over.

Remember, this was a party which seemed poised, at various times, to hand over the reins to a whole cast of misfits.

There was Kevin O’Leary, the yappy businessman who wore his ignorance of politics like a cheap suit.  O’Leary saved the party from sure disaster by quitting the race before they could vote for him.  Then there was hyper-libertarian Maxime Bernier who was super happy to blow up most of the things Canadians like about their government, all in the name of a mystical Randian freedom not all that many were pining for.

And who can forget Kellie Leitch?  When she wasn’t staring off into random corners of her office, she was pushing an ugly and xenophobic series of policies that many of her competitors decided might be popular enough to glom onto.

More than anyone else, it was Leitch that set Gilmore off into to the wilds of Canada for some friendly chats with like-minded conservatives. And out of that, according to a report in The Hill Times, the group of mostly unnamed individuals has come to take over Gilmore’s dream and pressure the party in a more moderate direction.

The newspaper says it also includes some of the previous candidates in the race, but doesn’t identify them.

Now, the joke many have passed around is these folks should just join the Liberal party, that they aren’t true conservatives.  But they obviously don’t see a home for themselves in the cheery red tent.

Which really highlights the paradox at the heart of the party.  Stephen Harper took the old Progressive Conservatives and the Alliance/Reform Party and welded them back together with his glare and a few kicked chairs.  Then he dragged them into government, managed to get them to stay civil long enough to win a majority.  Then he lost to the pretty boy son of his one true nemesis.

But all the while those internal tensions have still been there.

It seemed for a while like the party might wrestle with these things over the course of the leadership campaign.  But with such a large cast of candidates — more than a dozen — the actual debates turned into shambolic shout-feats.  People would show up in costumes and blab on about whatever talking point they were hot on that moment, then they’d be over.  It would repeat every few weeks, maybe with a new format, but always with the same result.

So, in the end, rather than hash anything out, they went with Scheer.

It’s somewhat telling his campaign showed up with “Andrew Scheer is my second choice” buttons.  The combination of a huge field and a convoluted ranked-and-weighted ballot system meant there was going to be no clear winner out of the gate.

And in picking their second — or seventh, or twelfth — choice, the party went with the guy most like his predecessor.  It’s an implicit bet on Harper’s ethos that being in power is the important thing, making the small everyday changes involved in governing is the important thing.

But what happens if Scheer isn’t a winner?  What if government isn’t in the party’s near-future?  Victory can be a great salve for nursed grudges, but if that’s not there, the divisions within the party are only going to manifest themselves in larger fashion.

And this is where outside pressure groups start to come in.  The remnants of Bernier’s campaign already formed their own libertarian pressure vessel, Conservative Futures.  Now there’s this new centrist group jumping into the fray.  They could be a good thing for the party, dragging them away from their members most base instincts.  But it could also be a sign of the civil war to come.

The party has split apart once before, there’s no reason to assume it never could again. 

More from Robert Hiltz     @robert_hiltz

Click here for more political news headlines.

Share this article

One Response to “Conservative centrists are organizing, does this spell trouble for the Tories?”

Add your comments: