Next Tory Leader Will Need to Unite the Conservative Kingdom


I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but it should be noted that whoever wins the Conservative Party leadership crown will only inherit half a kingdom. 

I say that because Canada’s conservative community is actually made up of two distinct parts, each of which has its own goals and perspectives. 

First off, there’s the Conservative Party of Canada, made up of politicians and partisans, which is all about winning elections; the other part is the conservative movement, made up of activists and ideologues, which is all about winning the war for ideas. 

Simply put, one favours power, the other principle. 

And although these two groups have much in common (mainly they don’t like Liberals) and even though the media often lumps them together as a monolithic whole, their different aims and outlooks often creates a tense relationship between the two sides, which sometimes even leads to open conflict. 

Typically, their feuds center on the relative importance of the party maintaining ideological purity versus the pragmatism of doing whatever it takes to win elections. 

I myself have been on the frontline of such intra-conservative skirmishes. 

In fact, decades ago, when I was working for a conservative-leaning advocacy group called The Nation Citizens Coalition, I helped to create media campaigns designed to punish right-wing political parties which abandoned their ideals. 

One time, for instance, in the 1990s, the NCC sent out a mass mailing to our supporters (the NCC’s base largely overlapped with the base of conservative parties) urging them to stop donating to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party unless it acted in a more conservative manner; we urged them to use this line: “You’re too red, you won’t see any more of my green until you turn more blue.” 

Very colourful! 

Later on, I found myself on the other side of the fence, when, while working as a consultant for a moderate Republican Senatorial candidate, I had to defend my client from charges levelled by right-wing Christian groups that he was too liberal. 

At any rate, enough reminiscing; the point I’m trying to make here is that while the next Conservative leader may have total control over his or her half of Canada’s right-wing kingdom, i.e. the party, the conservative movement controls the rest of the territory, a wild, untamed, ungovernable land teeming with independent-minded conservative tribes. 

Those tribes, by the way, are much more vocal, much more strident and much more aggressive today, than they were back when I was working with the NCC. 

Nowadays, anyone with a camera and a computer, can basically create their own conservative organization and can easily and inexpensively reach a large audience through emails, blogs and social media. 

We’ve seen the recent rise, for example, of hard-hitting, hard-core conservative media/advocacy groups such as Rebel News NetworkTrue North Canada and Canada Proud, each of which is just as likely to bash “wishy-washy” conservative politicians, as they are socialists. 

Additionally, these groups seem to be demanding more than just ideological purity from the Conservative party; they also want a Tory leader who’s not afraid to mix it up and take on the left, a la Donald Trump. 

I suspect this is one reason why current Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer never really won over the undying loyalty of movement conservatives; ideologically he was more or less OK, but he was simply perceived as too weak. 

Anyway, all of this will present the next Conservative leader with a challenge: how to keep movement conservatives loyal to the party, while also pragmatically appealing to non-ideological mainstream voters? 

And yes, keeping activists loyal is important for Conservatives, since it’ll be difficult for them to win a battle with the Liberals if their own activists are uninspired, or worse, if they’re lobbing bombs at the Conservative leader. 

So, the next Tory leader will need to possess deft diplomatic skills. 

Or, at the very least, he or she will need to avoid overtly insulting conservative activists, as some past conservative leaders have ill-advisedly done in the past.  

This doesn’t mean the next Tory leader must bow down to Rebel News, it just means they should treat all conservative tribes with respect. 

That will make for a more peaceable and more united conservative kingdom.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Gerry Nicholls.     @GerryNic

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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