Conservatives have a challenging decision to make

As the lazy, hazy days of summer draw to a close, Conservative Party of Canada members will be called upon to choose a new leader. By all accounts that leader is most likely to be Calgary born MP Pierre Poilievre who currently represents the Ontario riding of Carlton, a firebrand who endorsed the Freedom Convoy and who has railed against vaccine mandates and other pandemic-related public health restrictions.

With a Liberal government seemingly fast approaching its best before date in the minds of the electorate, Mr. Poilievre’s departure from the big tent ideals of his predecessors begs the question of whether Canadians will toss the baby out with the bathwater come the next election. Few of Mr. Poilievre’s caucus supporters, those who arguably know him best, are on the record as believing the Conservative leadership frontrunner will ameliorate his positions to accommodate his rival’s supporters.

This is troubling on many fronts. It takes little more than a glance at what trumping public safety with “freedom” has resulted in south of the border to provide pause for most middle of the road Canadians, those whom the old centre right Progressive Conservatives and Liberals depended upon to deliver stable majorities in the quest for peace, order and good government.

Canada is a vast and diverse landscape filled with peoples and cultures spread across an even more vast geography that requires a sound grasp of diplomacy and the art of compromise.

The current Liberal government has in large part stepped away from that very concept itself during the past two years with an ‘our way or stay off the highway’ approach that has led to the current exacerbation of the ongoing Western alienation dividing our nation. Strong challenges call for strong leadership, but the public’s appetite for such is limited at best—ask wartime British leader Winston Churchill how that plays out once it is perceived that the threat is gone.

The problem is, Mr. Poilievre is not a unifier. His entire scorched earth approach to the leadership campaign is a case study, if his caucus supporters are to be believed, as to how he will approach dealing with Canada’s cleavages.

There are enough anti-vaccine and anti-mandate members of the NDP and Liberal camps to offset the potential loss of moderate Conservatives who might leave should Mr. Poilievre lead his party in 2025 (or sooner barring a swift national dental plan from the Liberals to placate the NDP) leaving a very real possibility that an even more polarizing hand will be holding this nation’s tiller.

It will be up to Conservative supporters more than normally the case in elections to make the decision as to whether that will be a good thing. Too often partisans are willing to hold their noses and vote for their party uber alles, and that goes for all camps. Once the Conservative Party of Canada leadership has been settled, it will be up to Canadians of all stripes to pay closer attention to the leader they chose than is the norm.

It is often said that the electorate does not elect a government—they fire one. The question is, can we as a civil society afford to take that road blindly? We suggest not. While most Canadians can afford to wile away the dog days of summer, it behooves those holding Conservative Party of Canada memberships to open their nostrils and decide if the whiff is worth the powder, for all our sakes.