Progressives, do not be fooled by Erin O’Toole’s newfound concern for the working-class



Progressives beware: a wolf in sheep’s clothing is amongst you.

No, I am not referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or anyone else in his Liberal cabinet.  After over five years in office, it is now well-known that the Trudeau grits have not always been as progressive as promised.

Of course, when it comes to virtuous oratory, Trudeau and his Liberal cohort can certainly talk the talk.  But when it comes to delivering concrete results, they have not always lived up to their pledge to ensure social and economic justice for all Canadians.

This is old news though, and I have no wish to beat a dead horse.

The new wolf of which I speak is no Liberal in leftist drag.  Instead, rather, it is Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In a bid to win over non-traditional Conservative voters and expand the big-blue tent, O’Toole has embarked upon a new campaign strategy.  Employing rhetoric usually reserved by social democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, O’Toole has pivoted away from the usual conservative talking points to appeal to low-income and working-class Canadians.

Hoping to secure more of their support, O’Toole has taken a page from the progressive playbook and is suddenly voicing his concern for several traditional leftist causes, including the perils of free trade agreements, sky high income inequality and the decline of private sector union membership.

It all began shortly after O’Toole’s August inauguration as party leader.

During his recorded Labour Day message, O’Toole bemoaned the exploitation of everyday Canadians at the hands of “big business” as well as the greed of “corporate and financial power brokers, who care more about their shareholders, than their employees.”

He also went on to state that “The goal of economic policy should be more than just wealth creation.  It should be solidarity and the wellness of families” which includes “higher wages.”

Not all of O’Toole’s message was progressive of course.  Like any modern-day conservative, O’Toole could not help but attack “big government” in his speech.  However, it would be unrealistic to expect him, let alone any Conservative leader, to not hammer away at such a notion, no matter how absurd in today’s neoliberal age.

Still, O’Toole did prioritize a significant portion of his speech to denounce wealthy elites and promote the need for increased income equality.  That in itself was extraordinary.

O’Toole went even further a few weeks ago, when he delivered a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto.  Throughout that address, O’Toole stated that:

“It may surprise you to hear a Conservative bemoan the decline of private sector union membership.  But this was an essential part of the balance between what was good for business and what was good for employees.  Today, that balance is dangerously disappearing.  Too much power is in the hands of corporate and financial elites who have been only too happy to outsource jobs abroad.”

I cannot believe I am going to say this, but O’Toole is largely right, both in his explanation for the travails of today’s society, and in the shock factor of his delivery.  I mean, can anyone really imagine Stephen Harper, or even his much milder understudy, Andrew Scheer, uttering these truths?  I sure as heck cannot.

Granted, at least they did not hide their antipathy towards unions.  That was never in doubt.  Nor did they have the gall to distort their true beliefs on organized labour, all to further the conservative agenda, as O’Toole has done.

After all, it was not all that long ago that O’Toole was declaring himself his party’s “true, blue” standard bearer; a leader more fiscally conservative than Peter MacKay, which really was not all that difficult to believe, especially after witnessing his support for the suppression of unions and his endorsement of corporate-friendly trade agreements, all while under Harper’s leadership.

If spoken from a red tory, someone like a Joe Clark or a Peter Lougheed, O’Toole’s shift in language would be greatly welcomed.  It would finally signal that Conservatives had taken a real interest into the continued well-being of the working-class.

Unfortunately, Conservative advisors have made it abundantly clear that O’Toole is no red tory.  Nor is his newfound concern for reducing income inequality and strengthening unions at all genuine.  Instead, it was developed solely for the purpose of winning elections and advancing conservative policies, completely at odds with his recent rhetoric.

It is a clever strategy, I must admit.  And one that if executed correctly, could pay dividends for O’Toole in the next election, potentially even pushing the conservatives into majority government territory.

With that in mind, progressives better be careful.

An even more dangerous wolf than Prime Minister Trudeau is among the leftist flock, and he is bleating as convincingly as the best of them.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Wyatt James Schierman.

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