Embracing populism would give the Conservatives an opportunity for long-term success, and could dramatically broaden their appeal in our increasingly divided nation.
Canada’s Election is coming down to the wire.
It looks incredibly close, and it seems increasingly certain that no party will win a majority government.
If the polls are accurate (or even somewhat close to being accurate), it’s looking like the Conservatives are locked in at almost the same level of support they had in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Liberals are down significantly from 2015.
Yet, the Liberals had more votes to lose in the first place, so they could still conceivably win the most votes and the most seats, even if they lose over a million votes from their 2015 numbers.
And if the Conservatives win but fall short of a majority, they may be shut out of power by an anti-democratic coalition of the Liberals & NDP.
So, what it looks like is that the Conservatives effectively managed to inflict severe damage against Justin Trudeau’s reputation, and gave many Canadians a reason not to vote for him.
However, Andrew Scheer’s struggles in terms of personal approval, and the Conservatives being locked in the low 30’s in recent polls indicates that the Conservatives have not given enough people a reason to vote for them.
Now, it’s possible that the last-minute shift to warnings about a “Trudeau-NDP coalition you can’t afford” will swing enough late-deciders into the Conservative column to give them a victory. And it’s possible that the Conservatives boring, safe, risk-free, and 2015-style campaign will eke out a victory. But it’s looking very possible that the Conservatives will struggle on Election Day to win enough support to win a majority.
And that raises the question of a possibly serious missed opportunity: The decision to avoid the embrace of populism.
Populism gets a bad rap from the establishment elites, yet it’s something all parties should be embracing. After all, populism is about translating the will of the People into laws and government action, and that’s exactly what democracy is supposed to be all about.
Yet, during the campaign the Conservatives have sought to run a very ‘by the book’ campaign that has – in many cases – involved re-announcing things from the same 2015 Harper playbook, an election in which the Conservatives lost. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Conservatives finish with about the same percentage they won in 2015, since they are running such a similar campaign.
This is unfortunate, because there are many issues the Conservatives could have seized on to not only gain some control over the campaign media narrative, but to also win over voters who may have previously ignored the Conservatives.
Here are some examples:
- Make a clear appeal to private-sector union workers, with promises to support the manufacturing industry (including pipeline manufacturing & Canadian Steel). Many union voters lean Conservative, regardless of what their union bosses may claim. The Conservatives should not be an anti-union party.
- Offer something to students, like student debt relief. Student debt is a serious burden on the Canadian economy, and help for students facing debt struggles could draw many new young voters to the Conservatives, while boosting Canada’s GDP.
- Announce that Scheer and top cabinet ministers would march in a Pride Parade. Whether it’s fair or not, the perception that Scheer was not a fan of the LGBT community is something that can cost votes – particularly among socially-Liberal, fiscally Conservative voters in key suburban areas. Scheer could easily have said he would march in the same pride parade that Doug Ford marched in in Ontario. Remember, Donald Trump went on stage in the United States holding a pride flag. If Trump can do that in America, Scheer could easily walk in a parade in Canada.
- Hold a rally promising strength against Communist China. One thing that’s interesting to note is the near-universal opposition among Canadians to the actions of China against our country. From the far-left to the far-right, and everywhere in between, there is near unanimous recognition that Canada needs to be far tougher in terms of defending ourselves and standing up to China. While the Conservatives actually have some good policies in this regard, a big rally bringing people together against the actions of China could have given the Conservatives a boost and given those policies some actual exposure.
- Promise massive and severe penalties for pharmaceutical companies that were involved in the opioid crisis. The opioid crisis has taken the lives of thousands of Canadians, and it’s still ongoing. It is a huge problem. And Canadians almost universally loathe many pharmaceutical companies, especially companies that are seen as being a part of making the crisis worse. A promise to toughen punishments on CEOs and companies involved in the crisis would be very popular, and more importantly would be an example of real justice.
- Avoid talking about spending reductions, and instead talk about massive economic growth opportunities. Fiscal conservatism often doesn’t poll that well, particularly outside of a crisis. Remember, Harper won his only majority government at a time when he was running gigantic budget deficits and spreading ‘stimulus’ money across the nation at a record pace.
Recent history has shown that Canadians want the government to provide benefits now, either through tax cuts or boosting government spending. And while spending will still go up under the Conservative plan (meaning Liberal claims of billions in cuts are total bullshit) the Conservatives still left themselves open to attack by talking about delaying infrastructure spending.
After all, of all the spending that should NOT be delayed, it would be infrastructure spending, which can be financed at low interest rates and contribute to long-term GDP growth, in addition to job creation now. Instead of talking about reducing spending to balance the budget over time, the Conservatives should be raising hope for the future, talking about how their economic plan would lead to a huge surge of jobs, wealth, prosperity, and GDP growth for Canada, making it easy to balance the budget because of how much GDP would expand and how amazing the economy would be doing. In an era where people already feel financially restrained, talking about anything that seems like austerity is not a winning move. Talking about opportunity, growth, investment, jobs, and economic strength is more effective. Also, if the Conservatives announced something branded as “the biggest tax relief of all time,” they could have helped set the narrative of the campaign and had a real reason to promise huge GDP growth.
- And finally, the Conservative environment plan should have simply been to scrap the carbon tax and toughen existing penalties against companies that violate pollution laws. Canada has some of the weakest pollution penalties in the world in some sectors (not the energy sector), and we don’t need any new laws to fix that, we just need tougher enforcement of the laws that are already in place. Instead of taxing Canadians with the BS carbon tax, those who break pollution laws should be held accountable. It’s simple, it’s understandable, and it’s common sense that can help keep Canada environmentally clean without ripping money out of taxpayers pockets.
This embrace of Canadian Populism and Canadian Common-Sense could have gone a long way in a campaign that might be decided by 1 or 2 percentage points in dozens of key ridings. Perhaps it won’t matter and the Conservatives will shock the world and win big. But if not, all of this must be considered going forward, as the ensuing chaos of a minority government means we could be in another election very soon, and the Conservatives will need to embrace populism to build a long-term foundation for success.