By Jonathon Van Maren
The Conservative Party leadership race is heating up, which means that most contenders are falling all over themselves to persuade people who do not vote Conservative to support them. Pierre Poilievre, known for his pit-bull parliamentary performances, hastened to distance himself from his social conservative record by informing the media that he would be marching in Pride and would not permit pro-life bills to be put forward, even by private members. He later clarified that private members could put forward whatever they want, but he’d make sure the bills didn’t pass. Why he thought this clarification would help him remains unknown.
It is interesting that Conservative leadership hopefuls are eager to assure the LGBTQ community that they are welcome, and equally eager to assure everyone that the pro-life and social conservative community is not. Considering who actually votes for them, this is an interesting strategy. As I’ve noted many times, there are not enough social conservatives to win with so-cons alone, but there are enough so-cons that the Conservative Party cannot win an election without them. But the Conservative leadership contenders would rather listen to the left-wing media, which is telling them that they cannot win without offloading a substantial portion of their base (without explaining to them how they will win after doing so.) As Sean Speer put it in the National Post recently:
[T]he working hypothesis that there’s a large number of untapped fiscally conservative yet socially liberal voters is dubious. Evidence from the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, in fact, shows the opposite. The least represented group of voters in these societies tend to combine social conservative dispositions with a skepticism about market economics. To the extent that these findings apply to Canada, the case for a shift to the left on economics and a shift to the right on cultural issues — similar to Germany’s Christian Democratic model — may be just as plausible a political strategy.
The point is, it’s far from clear that abandoning social conservatives would be the electoral boon that many anticipate. It could just as easily set the Conservative party further back from winning elections — especially when one considers the disproportionate contribution that social conservatives make in the form of donations, volunteer hours and votes. That as many as one-third of current Conservatives MPs are said to be pro-life may be a good proxy for where Conservative voters stand.
In fact, an interesting article in the French publication Le Devoir this week indicated that to shift even further Left would be political suicide for the Conservative Party. Jean Charest, who served under Mulroney before becoming premier of Quebec, announced that he would not be seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party as expected—because he discovered that the membership of the party was, in fact, quite conservative. Here are some translated excerpts:
The fate of Jean Charest’s federal political career was sealed on Sunday when he found, supported by internal polls, that he was simply not in tune with the formation he hoped to join…Le Devoir consulted relatives of the former Quebec premier to understand what has changed, as he has been contemplating the race for the Conservative leadership for a month. His campaign team had taken shape. He wooed supporters.
However, at the end of last week, the results of the team’s soundings with the CPC members arrived, relates a source who gravitated in the entourage of Mr. Charest and who speaks of a “shock”. Analysis revealed that one-third of members are against abortion and same-sex marriage. Half oppose any gun control, as well as carbon pricing. “We are in front of people who have completely different ideas on social issues,” observes this source. “It is really a right-wing party, led by people on the right, and the membership is too.”
Considering the fact that Conservative politicians frequently attempt to disavow all of the afore-mentioned positions (except for the carbon tax, which the election results indicated very few people really care about), Charest can be forgiven for his shock that the membership of the Conservative Party is chock-full of right-wingers. The majority of the current Conservative caucus is pro-life, and many of them hold staunchly social conservative views. They hold their seats in Parliament because voters sent them there. And yet, we have to endure the same pathetic game, where politicians like Pierre Poilievre function like a cardboard cut-out version of a genuinely conservative politician—a good face, but zero depth. Conservative Party top brass should be concerned that if they spend all of their time chasing progressive votes, eventually the Stockholm Syndrome suffered by a large portion of their membership will wear off.
Social conservatives understand that the Conservative coalition is diverse, and that compromise is necessary as a result. But the current status quo is that politicians like Poilievre bad-mouth us to the left-wing press and then expect us to show up and vote for them anyways. It’s not that we don’t get everything we want, it’s that Poilievre and his ilk expect us to accept a combination of nothing and their contempt, and then support them because at least they aren’t Justin Trudeau. Increasingly, people are getting very, very sick of this arrangement. And again, it may be true that there are not enough of us to set the agenda. But there are enough of us to ensure that spineless career politicians never attain the power that they crave. Votes must be earned. Conservative leadership candidates should tread carefully.