The battle between Convoy Conservatives and Club Conservatives has led to a ‘new divide’ between people and elites
The Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race is heading into the home stretch. Once the dust settles after the ballots are counted on Sept. 10, the new leader must focus on defeating Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and deciding the right path for Conservatives to take.
Tasha Kheiriddin, a lawyer, columnist and principal at Navigator Ltd., tackles this difficult subject in The Right Path: How Conservatives Can Unite, Inspire and Take Canada Forward.
She’s concerned by the party’s recent political direction, which she perceives as a “new division along class lines … one that cannot readily be repaired by compromise.”
The battle between Convoy Conservatives and Club Conservatives, as she depicts them, has led to a “new divide” between people and elites. This has caused tense feelings, frustration, and bitterness and left “political orphans” like Red Tories, Blue Liberals and “Common Sense Canadians” out in the cold.
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“Unless the factions can stop fighting,” she writes, “there is also the very real risk of the Conservative Party breaking up again, with more centrist Tories leaving the fold to form a new organization – which would potentially guarantee the Liberals free rein, like the election of the Reform Party did in 1993.”
Kheiriddin and I have known each for years. Our visions of Canadian conservatism have similarities and differences. With respect to the leadership candidates, she’s a co-chair of Jean Charest’s campaign and I endorsed Pierre Poilievre in the National Post a couple of days before he joined the race. I’ve always respected her ideas and opinions. My hope is the feeling is mutual – and is maintained after she reads this review.
All kidding aside, The Right Path contains several interesting chapters on the Conservatives of former leader Stephen Harper and Trudeau Liberals.
Kheiriddin credits Harper with utilizing a “big-tent approach” similar to Sir John A. Macdonald, but noted it “was not based in geography or ethnic origin but in a citizen’s relationship with the state.” She also highlighted Harper’s opposition to moral relativism, evident in his law-and-order policies, tax credits for families and “adversarial relationship with the press.”
Trudeau was “in many ways the opposite of Harper. Trudeau was suave where Harper was taciturn. He loved the press while Harper detested them. He spoke of ‘sunny ways’ while Harper evinced a ‘dour, workmanlike character.’” Indeed, the “ethos of Trudeau’s Liberal philosophy” is that “voters could achieve security through government. It represented the opposite of Harper’s vision, that of a citizenry less dependent on the state.”
Kheiriddin explores the history of populism in Canada. This includes its Western provincial roots, Preston Manning and the Reform Party, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada and even former U.S. president Donald Trump. Populism, in the guise of Convoy conservatism, could be “political poison among the broader electorate” and problematic if the party “pulls in thousands of new members who aren’t actually conservative – or even politically engaged.”
There’s also an examination of freedom. Poilievre and others promote this as a means of uniting Conservatives. The author feels the “populist cry of ‘freedom’ is anything but moderate or conservative,” especially when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines. “Freedom is a central tenet of conservatism,” Kheiriddin writes, “but it is traditionally counterbalanced with responsibility.”
What’s Kheiriddin’s solution to keeping the Conservative family united?
One chapter suggests reviving “the party that founded the country: the Liberal-Conservative Party.” The party that Macdonald led was a “synergy of classical liberalism with conservative thought, in the mould of the former federal Progressive Conservative Party.” This entity would be “neither statist nor populist,” “straddle the centre-right and appeal to the Common Sense Canadian voter,” and “provide a home for disaffected Blue Liberals and Red Tories.”
Kheiriddin also believes it would “counter populism not by rejecting ‘elites’ but by creating a culture of opportunity” and appeal to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I’m afraid I have to disagree with parts of Kheiriddin’s analysis.
I don’t find the Convoy Conservative versus Club Conservative thesis to be an accurate assessment of today’s party and movement. Debates between fiscal and social conservatives, Red Tories and Blue Tories, conservatives and libertarians, and so forth still exist but can be dealt with rationally and intelligently. I’m not nearly as concerned about populism and firmly believe it can be successfully incorporated into modern conservatism. I don’t support her cheerleading of Charest or rejection of Poilievre. And I don’t have the slightest interest in supporting anything akin to the old federal PCs.
Nevertheless, I recommended reading The Right Path. It’s well-written and succinctly researched. There are many intriguing opinions and plenty of food for thought. While some readers will reject her positions, they should still be open-minded and read her analysis to make their own informed decisions.
There’s always been plenty of room in the Conservative tent for intellectual discourse, free expression and disparate opinions. This will hopefully help the party find the right path to electoral success after this tense leadership race has finally concluded.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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