A Plan for the Conservative Party

With less than a year to go before the next federal election, Don Newman looks at the choices that Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of Canada are faced with; emulate southern politics or build credible policies?

Don Newman

Canadians should be getting ready for a “rough” campaign leading up to next October’s Federal General Election, according to two people who should know of what they speak.

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer have predicted that is the way the campaign will be leading up to the vote on October 21st.  And since they will be the main protagonists, you can argue that if that is the way they want the campaign to be — that is the way it will be.

We can only hope the “rough” campaign will be “Canadian rough” and not seek to replicate the kind of mud-slinging, character assassination and outright lies into which politics in the United States have degenerated in recent decades. However, I am not sure that we can be confident that will be the case.

Because it is disconcerting to see reports that Scheer recently said that in the coming campaign the Conservatives will be running against the “elites” and the liberal media. Who does that sound like? Why of course, President Donald Trump, the man who has done more to debase politics, public debate and civilized norms in the United States than anyone in living memory. Trump ran his successful Presidential campaign in 2016 by seizing on those targets, plus a heavy dose of maligning and denigrating everyone and anything that opposed him.

Now there is no indication that Scheer has any plans to go anywhere near as far as Trump in adopting those kind of tactics, but once a road is started down it can be difficult to stop. Particularly if a campaign is not going well. But even if he is never tempted to go there, it is difficult to understand why the Conservative leader would want to do anything that mirrors Donald Trump.

The American President is amongst the most controversial and unpopular political personalities in Canada. Public opinion polls taken as recently as this past September show Trump has the approval of no more than 20% of Canadians. Even amongst people who identify as Conservative, his Canadian support is only 39%. A campaign emulating even part of the Trump modis operandi would seem unlikely to have much chance of success.

In the last 30 years as Conservative politics in this country has moved from the centre to the right, many in the Conservative Party have come to admire and sometimes emulate Conservative personalities in the Unites States, adopting their rhetoric and sometimes their tactics. Now it seems the even tempered Andrew Scheer— he was after all Speaker of the House of Commons in the last Stephen Harper Government — with his likeable but bland personality and looks, is contemplating emulating the abrasive, bombastic, egomaniacal American President.

The thought of the friendly, low key Scheer trying to emulate the consummate show off Trump almost boggles the mind. But even if he can’t match the performance, it would not stop Scheer repeating the distorted messages of envy and anger. In fact, with his more reasonable approach, the messages might at one level at least be even more effective.

However it is unlikely that such a message would be effective enough in Canada to get anyone to vote Conservative that wasn’t committed to doing so anyway. More likely, it would remind uncommitted voters, the kind that go between parties in every election and determine who gets to form the government, of the reviled Trump and get them to cast votes for other parties.

Instead of parroting the attack lines from south of the border there is a much better strategy for the Conservatives to adopt in the coming election campaign. After almost four years in office, the Trudeau Liberals have a record of things that they have done and things that they have left undone.

If the Conservatives are serious about forming a government that can address contemporary Canada and the issues Canadians face, they should let everyone know how they plan to proceed with getting the Trans Mountain Pipeline built, instead of complaining the Trudeau Government spent $4.6 billion to buy the pipeline from its private sector owners to keep the project alive.

The Conservatives should also explain how they would have negotiated with President Trump to get a better trade deal than the USMCA that is replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement, and whether they will sign the current deal if they were to form government and it remained unsigned. And if it is signed, would a Conservative Government honour the new agreement or abort it.

Canadians could also be impressed if the Conservative Party unveiled a plan to deal with climate change, since they have already dismissed the Liberal plan to put a price on carbon emissions as a useless “tax grab,” but so far have offered no alternative on an issue polls show most Canadians think is an important one.

Two other issues the Conservatives should also address are how they as a government would address the deficit that is much greater than the Liberals promised in the last election campaign. And to do the Liberals one better, they should offer a credible plan to bring the federal books back into balance.

And then there is the question of marijuana. Depending on how the roll out of the legalization and sale of the drug for recreational use proceeds, the Conservatives will need to have a credible plan to deal with the fallout.

There are other issues as well, plus unforeseen matters that will come up between now and election day that the Conservatives will have to deal with – as will all the other parties.

But ultimately, if the Conservatives could do the work to come up with credible policies on all of those issues, they would have a much better chance of forming the next government, than if they decide to parrot discredited campaign rhetoric from a discredited American President.

The choice is up to them.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.