The love affair between mainstream political parties on the right and the far right causes may finally be coming to an end. I say may be, because it has been a long standing relationship for sometime now. The attempted insurrection on Jan 6th, in Washington D.C. served as a wake up call to conservative political movements world wide. The attempt to foster a reliable base of hardcore right wing supporters seems to have backfired. This base is quickly being revealed to be comprised of conspiracy theorists, racist organizations and other ne’er do wells. Clearly the kind of company mainstream conservative political parties no longer wish to cozy up to.
Which brings us to the Conservative Party of Canada. The past few weeks has had multiple statements from leader Erin O’Toole attempting to distance himself from being compared to Donald Trump. His attempts to reframe the modern Conservative Party as a centrist and moderate political force in Canadian politics. Which is why the timing couldn’t be worse for it to come to light that former leadership contender Derek Sloan accepted a donation from known neo-Nazi Paul Fromm. Credit to Mr. O’Toole should be given here, as he is doing the right thing and working to expel Mr. Sloan from the party.
The unfortunate thing for Mr. O’Toole though, is that it is putting him in a difficult position. His victory as party leader is partly responsible to Mr. Sloan who’s social conservative supporters helped put Mr. O’Toole into power. As well, declaring to the nation that he will not accept racism within the ranks of the Conservative Party, it has put his past actions as leader under a microscope. His campaign to ‘Take Back Canada’ rings closely to ‘Make America Great Again’. Under his tenure, one of his star MP’s Pierre Poilievre decried the threat of the ‘Great Reset’, a common conspiracy theory amongst the far right. As well he spoke with Ryerson University Young Conservatives in which he stated: “most of the lefty radicals are also the dumbest people at your university.”
We can get into the nitpicking of who said what and to whom, however these examples expose a bigger risk of modern day conservatism. For years it has been easy to shout into the bubble. Repeating conspiracy theories and ranting about political correctness culture works well to inflame the passions of the mob. Unfortunately it fails to present a coherent plan to the rest of the country as to the best path forward. It has been too easy for conservatives to recite the latest online conspiracy as opposed to presenting a thoughtful coherent argument for their plans for the country. What has happened over the years, is that the moderate right of the nations have been leaving conservative parties. All thats left are the inflamed passions of the far right, who are finding it easy to make it home in these parties.
Aaron Wherry presents a very compelling argument that the problem facing conservatives is much greater than just shaking off the framing of them by Justin Trudeau. He is right. Conservatism needs to look inward. Presenting an alternative to the Liberals is not their priority at the moment. Erin O’Toole has the unenviable task ahead of him of truly redefining what it means to be conservative in the modern age. Can he truly expunge the nasty elements of racism and xenophobia from the Conservative party? I hope that his expulsion of Mr. Sloan is a sign that he is taking the task seriously. We need Mr. O’Toole to succeed in bringing the Conservative party into the mainstream. For the sake of public discourse and our democracy. If only one party is seen as serious enough to be in government, in this case the Liberal party, it is a recipe for disaster in the long term. Our democracy rests on reasonable, educated people presenting cogent and well formed ideas on how to govern this country. Reasonable debate is the backbone of democracy. Should that debate become poisoned with the rhetoric of conspiracy and racism, I fear what happened in the U.S. capital on Jan 6th, can definitely happen here.