But Is O'Toole Any Better?

Tom Finnerty18 Sep, 2021 5 Min Read
Heading for another term?

The Canadian Federal election is taking place on September 20th, and it seems harder than usual to follow what is going on up there. Recent polling suggests that the Conservatives and Liberals are more or less neck-and-neck, with the NDP pulling in third as expected, but with a surprisingly strong 20 percent share of the projected vote. Why so close? Well, it's partly because of the nature of the contemporary Canadian electorate -- the 2019 election, at least by popular vote, was a nail-biter as well. But it is also likely because the basic positioning of the major parties are so similar that you'd need to be a scholastic philosopher to determine the difference between them.

This should come as no surprise as far as two of those parties are concerned. The brains behind current prime minister Justin Trudeau, knowing well that the resurgence of the NDP was key to Stephen Harper's electoral victories in the early aughts, have continued moving leftward to prevent Jagmeet Singh's iteration of the party from bringing about a similar result. And, anyway, two leftwing parties jockeying for position as the true party of the left is so commonplace as to be almost not worth commenting upon.

But a notionally right-of-center party doing so? That's the puzzler.

O'Toole: Maybe inject some principles while you're at it.

Erin O'Toole won last summer's race for Conservative leader running as "True Blue O'Toole," a patriotic military man who was going to take the fight to Justin Trudeau. But ever since, he's gone out of his way to remake the CPC in his own Red Tory image. According to Gary Mason, in a column entitled 'Erin O'Toole is changing Canadian conservatism as we know it,'

[B]ehind the scenes, there was always a plan to change the direction the party would head in during an election if [O'Toole] became leader – the direction many believed offered the only path to victory.

Mason continually praises O'Toole's sagacity in eschewing the positions of his base on issues like abortion, guns, conscience protections for healthcare workers, and environmentalism; and his overall willingness to adopt stances more acceptable in polite society. Says Mason, a "Conservative Party headed by Erin O’Toole would be in step with the times. Full stop." But it's striking that the supposedly up-to-date positions he describes, purportedly to appeal to the same type of alienated, working-class voters who made Brexit a reality, are in fact the characteristic views of the Laurentian Elite.

Peter MacKay famously blamed the party's loss in 2019 on the "stinking albatross" of social conservatism hanging about its neck, but for Erin O'Toole the albatross seems to be conservatism itself.

Environmentalism is our focus here at The Pipeline, and on that score O'Toole's drift has been particularly egregious. One of the Tory insiders that Mason quotes praising the party's lurch leftward is Ken Boessenkool, who has been arguing for years that the only way conservatives will ever again take power is if they sell out Canada's oil and gas producing provinces by embracing carbon taxation and other extreme (and pointless) regulations in order to win over voters in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). O'Toole has taken this advice, and the advice of other Tory insiders, like Mark Cameron, former head of the environmentalist pressure group Canadians for Clean Prosperity, now a deputy minister in the government of Alberta.

During his leadership campaign O'Toole signed a pledge saying,

I, Erin O’Toole, promise that, if elected Prime Minister of Canada, I will: Immediately repeal the Trudeau carbon tax; and, reject any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.

But after he'd won, O'Toole released a document entitled 'Secure the Environment: The Conservative Plan to Combat Climate Change,' which begins "Canada must not ignore the reality of climate change. It is already affecting our ecosystems, hurting our communities, and damaging our infrastructure."

To combat climate change, O'Toole promised that, should he form a government, he would 1) implement his own Carbon Tax, one that's less onerous than the Liberal version, but which could be increased if market conditions make doing so feasible. 2) "Finalize and improve" the Trudeau government's Clean Fuel Standard (also known as the second carbon tax), 3) enact an electric vehicle mandate and invest billions of tax-payer dollars in EV manufacture and infrastructure, which includes, 4) update the national building code such that all buildings will have "mandatory charging stations or wiring required for chargers", 5) reduce emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accords by 2030 and achieving Net-Zero emissions by 2050. And on and on.

That's not just a flip-flop, that's an atomic belly flop.

Coming your way, Canada.

But are these moves necessary to win? Mason quotes Howard Anglin, former Chief of Staff to both Harper and Jason Kenney, as saying "[t]he first challenge that any Canadian conservative party must confront is that Canada is not a conservative country." Maybe. But I can't help hearing in that sentiment the predictions of impending "permanent Democratic majorities" we've been hearing about in the U.S. for the last 40 years. My own theory is that Canadians are rarely presented with a serious conservative alternative to the Trudeaupianism they've been force-fed since the '60s.

Here's just one example of how the Tories might have approached this election differently -- Dan McTeague of Canadians for Affordable Energy recently pointed out that the exploding price of housing has been a major issue in this election, but there has been little mention of the other factors making life in Canada increasingly expensive.

Once someone has a place to live, they are going to need to cool it in the summer and heat it in the winter. They will need electricity to cook and store their food... All of this, of course, takes energy... Every major Canadian political party is committed to at least Net Zero emissions by the year 2050. I have written extensively about how this leads to skyrocketing energy prices. Yet, amid all the talk about housing affordability no one in Canada seems to be saying much about energy affordability.

Policies like carbon taxation are always sold by the Liberals as affecting "Big Polluter" mega-corporations, but in fact they do real harm to ordinary people, both when they 're hit with the tax directly at the pump or paying their heating bill, or indirectly when the price for everything else goes up. Canadians are very sensitive to those pocketbook issues, probably even more so than Americans. Energy affordability could have been a winning issue for the CPC, with the winter months approaching and more than a year of accumulated pandemic-related economic anxiety weighing on people's minds. Instead they chose to go Liberal-lite, a move which rarely, if ever, works.

Still, I do appreciate arguments like those of former Conservative MP and minister Joe Oliver, whose recent endorsement of O'Toole for PM said:

[Trudeau] has exploited the pandemic to set the country on a path of unsustainable spending and intrusive government. Four more years galloping toward a dystopian Great Reset would make it exceptionally challenging for a new government to arrest, let alone reverse, that dire fate.

But I can't help but notice that Oliver's argument -- that Trudeau is awful and Canada just needs him gone -- is only for O'Toole by default.  Maybe that will be enough, and Trudeau fatigue will carry O'Toole over the finish line. But such a strategy just failed spectacularly in the California recall election, leaving Gov. Gavin Newsom in an even stronger position to torture the Golden State than he was before. Canada is likely to experience the same fate.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.

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