It may seem counter-intuitive, but Canada’s Conservative Party is seeking short-term success in a way that ironically makes that success far more elusive.
Human beings can smell desperation.
We instinctively recoil from it.
When someone seems to want something too badly, when they seem willing to say anything to get it, we feel almost compelled to deny them even more.
And the same holds true for politics.
While wanting to be elected is of course essential in a democracy – and having to ‘woo’ the voters is part of that – people can sense on a deep level when an appeal is being made from pure desperation, as opposed to when it stems from something true and legitimate.
There is also a certain respect people develop for those who are willing to tell them the truth (or in politics at least get closer to the truth), rather than just tell people exactly what they want to hear.
When someone seems so terrified to say ‘the wrong thing,’ we feel they are just acting out of fear, rather than out of a genuine desire to inform or share information.
Where am I going with all of this?
Well, I increasingly feel the Conservatives are struggling to win because they are too afraid to lose.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but I think it makes sense when we really think about it.
For example, the Conservatives appear to be largely shifting closer to Liberal policy in an effort to ‘go with the flow,’ and avoid ‘upsetting’ or ‘scaring-off’ voters.
On some of the biggest issues, the Conservatives differ with the Liberals rhetorically, but not so much in substance.
For example, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole recently sent Justin Trudeau a letter warning about rising debt and deficits.
However, O’Toole has said the Conservatives will wait 10 years to balance the budget, and won’t be making cuts.
He has also said he will repeal the carbon tax, and criticized the Liberals for what he characterized as a drop in foreign aid spending as a percentage of Canada’s gross national product.
That leaves the following question hanging in the air:
How would the Conservatives be more fiscally responsible than the Liberals?
Now, I think many of us feel they will be simply because Justin Trudeau has been so profligate a spender and seems to live in a world disconnected from reality when it comes to money.
That said, without some substance behind a claim to fiscal responsibility, many voters won’t buy it. And that’s something we’ve seen in recent polling, in particular a survey showing 33% of Canadians trusted the Liberals on fiscal management, compared to 24% who trusted the Conservatives.
Right now, many people will look at things and think O’Toole is trying to have it both ways.
He wants to claim fiscal responsibility by sending letters to Trudeau warning about debt, but also wants to avoid ‘scaring people’ by promising not to make spending cuts.
The problem with that is if you really think spending is out of control, then you would have to support either tax hikes or budget reductions – at the very least reductions in the rate of spending growth.
To promise the elimination of the carbon tax, no cuts, and lower budget deficits simply doesn’t add up.
People can sense that the Conservatives are trying to be too many things to too many people, which often results in being nothing to everybody.
This is where the fear of losing comes in.
Canada faces a moment when tough truths are needed.
We live in a world that is in many ways becoming more chaotic, with mounting evidence that our economy is largely built upon an unsustainable foundation.
We have seen how vulnerable we are due to giving away our manufacturing capacity to foreign countries – particularly China – and our obsession with ‘green virtue’ is strangling our own energy sector and making life less and less affordable.
Much of our ‘growth’ is based on a clearly over-heated housing market, something exacerbated by the combination of excessive money creation by the Bank of Canada, and immigration levels that exceed almost every other nation on earth on a per-capita basis (until the pandemic of course).
We watched our debt nearly double in a year, and the Liberals seem determined to deepen dependence on government at the expense of individual initiative and local community strength.
And perhaps worst of all, we received a brutal wake-up call that an increasingly ill population, both physically and mentally, with rising obesity, declining fitness, and a mental health crisis, was left vulnerable when a virus hit.
Our leaders – at all levels and across the political spectrum – showed a disturbing willingness to reach for the quick fix of draconian lockdowns and restrictions on freedom, rather than focusing on the importance of fitness and targeted protections for the most vulnerable.
To sum it all up, we have never before needed leaders who are willing to confront these difficult truths.
People are calling out for it.
People are yearning for it.
But instead, the Conservative Party (with some notable exceptions such as Pierre Poilievre and Michelle Rempel Garner who are trying to keep the focus on some core values and principles), appears to be playing it as safe as possible, refusing to engage with the underlying issues we face, and hoping to have the election fall into their hands by being ‘safe enough.’
So, they are saying whatever they think will help them get through the next news cycle, without considering
How does that work out in sports?
The ‘playing not to lose’ strategy is often disastrous.
Consider the so-called ‘prevent defense’ in football, when a team gives up easy yards to their opponent in the hope of stopping ‘the big play.’
As John Madden said, “All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.”
Amazingly, the Conservatives appear to be in a prevent defense, despite not even having the lead.
They trail in every poll, and while one poll could be dismissed they can’t all be.
Playing it safe simply isn’t working.
This isn’t a ‘safe’ time.
This isn’t a ‘safe’ era.
This is an era of profound chaos, with immense potential consequences if we are unable to get our budget under control, and if we are unable to address the deep underlying issues of our increasingly unhealthy society.
If people want to stick with the ‘ignore the real issues and feel good status quo,’ they will be voting for the Liberals, not for an alternative.
For those looking for someone to really speak up about what we can see happening all around us, they will vote for whoever shows some courage.
And right now, the Conservatives are missing the opportunity to seize that mantle.
People are watching them lurch around in an effort to win everyone over, and feeling that it is too transparent and too desperate.
Ironically, the more the CPC tries to appeal to everyone, they lose more support across the political spectrum.
You must be willing to lose in order to win
And this brings us to the paradoxical conclusion that the Conservatives must be willing to lose in order to win.
They must be willing to speak the truth, they must be willing to adhere to their core principles, and they must be willing to say unpopular things that generate a controversial news cycle, in order to win the long-term battle of building real credibility in the minds of Canadians.
That opportunity may still be there, but time is running out fast.