New Conservative Leader Leaves Progressives Unsettled

By: Justin P. Goodrich, LL. M.

It was December 2003 when a proposed merger between the Canadian Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was ratified by their respective memberships, thus creating today’s Conservative Party of Canada.

For many of those who identified as progressive conservatives the merger was problematic.  So much so, that a large portion of those individuals opted instead to join the Liberal Party of Canada.  Though they believed strongly in core conservative values such as local government, free markets, a strong national defense, and balanced budgets, they also believed in the importance of addressing key social issues.  Thus, for them, they felt as though they had suddenly became orphaned by their party with no other option but to make a shift in their political affiliation.

Over time the dust settled and with the defeat of then Prime Minister Paul Martin the Conservative Party of Canada formed government under the leadership of Stephen Harper and, for over a decade, governed the country.  However, as we all know, that came to an end in the fall of 2015.  Since that time much speculation has taken place regarding why the Conservative Party failed to get re-elected.  Was it Mr. Harper’s popularity (or lack there of, as it were)?  Had they simply been in power for too long?  Or was it, perhaps, that since 2003 the party was – in the eyes of many – becoming too polarizing as it continued to drift further right on the ideological spectrum?

Though these questions are best discussed in a political science classroom I would respectfully submit that it was a combination of all of the above.  However, regardless of the answers, the outcome begs the question: What impact did losing government have on the future direction of the party?  Based on the leadership outcome, perhaps none at all?

For The Record…

As a progressive conservative I have never totally felt at home in the Conservative Party.  Though I’ve been a member since my late teens (in-other words, I was a member of one of the two parties that merged in 2003), I have always struggled; not so much with the platform, but rather a segment of our base.  Sadly, this is a feeling that has only grown since my days as a young, admittedly naïve political die-hard who lacked a certain objectivity that only comes with age, experience and the skill-sets that allow one to evolve in to a critical thinker.

More specifically, it’s the ultra-right branch of the party that has become more and more problematic for me over the past decade.  Though the party membership as a whole seems to be reasonably moderate (something that was reflected in some of the policy positions the party took at the last convention – for example, recognizing marriage as the union between two people in love, regardless of their gender), it is this group – one that is well funded and well mobilized – that continues to have a great deal of influence, which I find hugely problematic.  Enter stage right… Mr. Scheer.

Mr. Scheer represents – in my opinion – the status quo; the same status quo that often times results in conservatives being labeled “intolerant” and “out of touch.”  Indeed, while many of the conservatives that I spoke with were hoping for a progressive leader who was going to champion a season of change, we could not be more disappointed in the outcome.

Now I recognize that a ‘good’ party member would simply state “democracy has spoken” and rally behind our new leader.  I, however, believe that a ‘good’ party member must instead hold our leader – and those who elected him – accountable for what his leadership will do to the party.  In other words, my support will be ‘qualified’ and subject to Mr. Sheer’s ability to unite all branches of the party and create a strong alternative to the Federal Liberals in the next election.  However, I would submit that if he cannot accomplish the former in short-order, it may very well be possible that this is the end of the Conservative Party as progressives opt instead to once again distance themselves from the ultra-right elements that are seemingly in control.

I, for one, hope it does not come to that.  I would love nothing more than for the Conservative Party of Canada to mimic the BC Liberal Party where all those who are right-of-center can feel welcome, knowing that there’s a healthy balance within the party.  But this balance does not exist in the Conservative Party and it is yet to be seen if Mr. Sheer can be the person to strike that balance; certainly there were other candidates who had they been successful could have done exactly that with question.  Only time will tell.

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