Red Rose, Purple Thorn

[ Part of The Canadian Far Right in the Time of COVID ]

Canada’s 44th General Election has come and gone and more or less returned Parliament to status quo. The Conservative Party experienced the greatest disappointment as they moved left to counter the Liberals only to be attacked from behind by the People’s Party. Liminal States investigates the strategic prospects for these parties.

But first, the final polls on Election Day.

The Results

The final CBC Poll Tracker update before polls closed on September 20th:


The Poll Tracker was fairly accurate in predicting this election’s results. The official results may indicate a last minute switch from third party options to the Red or the Blue options.

From CTV News.

The Tepid Tory Tide

Ontario is home to 39% of the population of Canada and so Ontario’s electorate has an oversized impact on the national polls. In 2021 the general trend of the national polls followed the general trend of the Ontario polls:

Ontario. Note that the left-wing NDP made gains from the right-wing PPC in the third week of September, only for the PPC to reverse the curve by election day. An intriguing development.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole is a progressive Red Tory from a riding in Ontario. Red Tories have historically been strong in Ontario and Atlantic Canada and experienced an upswing in 2021.

Atlantic Canada

The Red Option and the Blue Option

There is one axiomatic truth we must accept about the rise of Conservative support over the first half of the campaign: they are the default option for the negative, anti-Trudeau voter. Just as the Liberals are the “natural governing party of Canada” the Conservatives are the natural Opposition party.

If we look at the poll trends throughout the 44th General Election then we immediately see how the Tories and Liberals mirror one another and take support from one another’s decided voters. This is the same dance that they perform in every election cycle.

The Conservative polling numbers include many temporary anti-Liberal supporters who are waiting for the rest of the campaign to play out. They know that they want Trudeau out of office but may not want to make Erin O’Toole the next Prime Minister.

The Right-wing Splitters

What had looked like Conservative ascendancy on September 5th turned out to be their peak. At that time the party lost momentum and its support decisively fell in the second week of September. In this same period the People’s Party accelerated its growth, apparently at the expense of the Tories.

For the first time in many years a strategic Vote campaign was deployed by the Conservatives to prevent vote splitting in the right wing. After election day news analysts were quick to show that the PPC had split the right-wing vote and cost the Conservatives as many as 21 seats across the country.

The growth of the PPC was a natural result of the strategy pursued by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. O’Toole steered the party to its left, to the political Centre occupied by the Liberals. He evidently hoped to appeal to the majority of Canadians as an adequate replacement for Trudeau, one who wouldn’t be a scary right-winger.

Toronto Sun mad about PPC voters; Maxime Bernier giving the Clinton Thumb.

This strategy backfired in the face of a belligerent and active PPC, which gained more and more support as O’Toole defended abortion, gun bans, and other Liberal policies that made him immune to Trudeau’s fear-mongering. Small-government and social conservatives on the right wing of the Conservative Party bolted for the only “real conservative” party, led by Maxime Bernier.

Of course, the PPC is not made up entirely of disaffected Conservative voters. Based on the national polling averages it is clear that they recruited many new voters as well.

From Maxime Bernier via Twitter, 23 August 2021

Given that these polls show decided voters’ intentions, it is likely that the PPC energized voters who would have otherwise been part of the 38% of electors who did not turn out to vote. This is hardly surprising when you consider their cynical dismissal of all other parties as the “Uniparty” (equally unsurprising is that this is a phrase borrowed from Steve Bannon and Ralph Nader).

The Red-and-Purple Pincer

As we had anticipated on August 30th, Trudeau began pushing harder on the vaccine passport and mandate issues since the antivaxx protests that had disrupted his campaign events the week prior. This may have provoked the wave of protests that brought thousands of antivaxxers out to blockade hospitals across Canada on September 2 and 3rd:

From CBC, “Reports of assault, verbal abuse as thousands protest vaccine passports outside hospitals across B.C..” 2 September 2021

The antagonism between the PPC and Liberals allows both parties to point at recognizable villains for their supporters to blame for society’s ills. Centering the discourse on these two poles allows the Liberals to defend their handling of the pandemic and the People’s Party to decry Trudeau’s “medical tyranny.” The Center-right Tories are left out of this controversy, leaving the Liberals to defend the Center against them and the PPC to attack them from the Right.

Now that the PPC has scored more than 4% of the vote share they qualify to participate in Election 45’s Leaders’ Debate. This will give Maxime Bernier a much better platform for his message and a much stronger position from which to attack the Conservative Party.

From The Globe and Mail. The People’s Party meets the official criteria for participating in the federal party leaders’ debates in Election 45.

If the Tories want to prevent a repeat of this vote split in Election 45 then they will have to change direction from the Center to the Right. However, that could alienate the Red Tories that O’Toole has won over in Ontario and the Atlantic without overcoming the PPC’s anti-establishment “Uniparty” rhetoric. There is no obvious resolution to the growing contradictions within the Conservative Party.

If Team Trudeau wanted to keep the PPC around as a thorn in the Tories’ side it would be as simple as passing new restrictions on firearms, or inviting more refugees, or signalling some virtue that is offensive to the PPC base. Trudeau can agitate his far-right opponents and keep them in the news as a political Boogeyman that scares “sensible” Canadians into voting Liberal.

From The Globe and Mail, 29 September 2021. Travel restrictions like these are already being denounced by PPC supporters as a new kind of segregation.

There is no indication that the Liberals control Bernier or his party, and so any strategy of provocation would be one that risks the situation spinning out of control.

[ Featured image from Huffington Post ]

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