The Failure Of Erin O’Toole’s ‘Move Left’ Strategy

The more the Conservative Party plays into the Liberal worldview, the more they validate the Liberals as being correct on the big issues.

Let’s imagine an alternate scenario for the 2021 election:

The Conservatives run on a vision starkly different from Justin Trudeau.

They pledge to cut government spending.

They pledge to cut taxes.

They advocate for less government and more freedom.

They continue to campaign against the carbon tax, and propose alternatives, such as tax reductions to foster innovation.

They choose not to pander to Quebec, instead working to either end or reshape the equalization formula to end the unfairness to the West.

They go on the offense against Justin Trudeau’s demonization of gun owners, and have the courage to point out that gun violence is mostly a gang problem in urban areas.

Imagine they do all of that, and then, on election night, the results are as follows:

Liberals – 158 seats

Conservatives – 119 seats

NDP – 26 seats

Bloc – 34 seats

Greens – 2 seats

As you’ve probably guessed, the numbers above are the results of the election.

If the Conservatives had run on a truly conservative platform, offering a clear contrast and philosophical differentiation with the Liberals, and then held the Liberals to a minority, they would be able to say with some credibility that they had built a strong base for a true conservative party to build on.

They could say that they came relatively close to winning, while staying true to their principles.

But again, that’s not what happened.

O’Toole’s shift left fails

Erin O’Toole has talked about the CPC having ‘the courage to change.’

But abandoning the base isn’t courage.

Betraying repeated promises on the carbon tax isn’t courage.

Blindsiding elected MPs to impose a dramatic shift in the party isn’t courage.

Selling out your principles isn’t courage.

In effect, O’Toole bet that he could abandon the core CPC base, abandon conservativism, and he would be rewarded on election day with a win.

It didn’t work.

It’s one thing to sell out your principles.

It’s another to sell out your principles and still lose.

False narrative in O’Toole’s speech

In Erin O’Toole’s concession speech, he talked about ‘continuing to grow’ the CPC.

Except, the CPC didn’t grow.

They – narrowly – shrank.

In 2019, the CPC won 121 seats (a gain of 26), and 34.34% of the popular vote, a gain of 2.52%.

In 2021, the CPC won 119 seats and 33.9% of the popular vote.

Additionally, it is important to note that there are still mail in ballots coming in, and those ballots are expected to be more favourable to the Liberals and NDP. Thus, it is likely the CPC popular vote percentage will continue to decline by small margins over the next few days, settling around 32-33%.

Thus, Erin O’Toole will have nothing to show for his abandonment of Conservative principle and shift to the left.

He will in fact likely finish slightly worse than Andrew Scheer did in 2019.

Further, under Stephen Harper, the CPC won 29.6%, 36.27%, 37.65%, 39.62%, and 31.91%.

Ironically, O’Toole seemed to distance ‘his’ version of the CPC from the Harper Conservatives (while embracing Brian Mulroney), yet is set to do worse than the average result Harper achieved.

Indeed, the result only looks as ‘good’ as it does for the CPC because of how unpopular Justin Trudeau has become.

There are simply zero numbers O’Toole can point to that in anyway backs up the claim that his shift-left policy grew anything other than division within the CPC.

There is a huge constituency for conservative policy

Now, this is the point at which some O’Toole backers will claim that he had no choice.

‘Canada is a left-wing place’ they’ll say, and they will explain that only a left-wing version of the CPC has any chance of winning.

Of course, that ignores the repeated victories of Stephen Harper, someone who was constantly demonized as too right-wing throughout his career.

It ignores that Scheer did better than O’Toole despite being perceived as socially conservative and despite struggling to explain his stance on social issues.

It also ignores the fact that there is in fact a large constituency for conservative policy, particularly on the economy.

Don’t just take my word for it.

An article from August 28, 2021 by Global News noted the results of a poll conducted by Ipsos asking Canadians about their view on the best economic path for Canada.

Here’s what they said:

“New polling done exclusively for Global News by Ipsos found 30 per cent of respondents said the best thing to do is keep spending on government programs even if it means prolonged deficits. Another 33 per cent said the focus should be on balancing the budget, even if it means spending cuts or tax increases, while 37 per cent said lowering taxes would be the best path forward.”

37% favour cutting taxes.

33% want a focus on balancing the budget.

Combine the two, and you have 70% open to aspects of what Conservatives have offered in the past: Big tax cuts and fiscal restraint.

Yet, the CPC didn’t campaign on that.

Instead, they attempted to appeal to the 30% who felt ‘the best thing to do is keep spending on government programs even if it means prolonged deficits.’

Unsurprisingly, this left many Conservatives (and those open to voting Conservative), uninspired, which is part of why many went to the PPC.

This is where it must also be pointed out that the overall CPC vote fell dramatically.

I’m not talking percentages here, I’m talking raw vote.

In 2019, the CPC won 6,239,227 votes nationwide.

While some votes are still coming in as I mentioned above, the CPC currently stands at 5,440,000. That number will go up, but it is quite unlikely to reach the total from 2019.

What this means is that had O’Toole simply held all voters who voted for the Scheer-led Conservatives in 2019, there’s a good chance the CPC either wins the most seats, or holds Trudeau to pathetically weak minority, likely so weak that Trudeau’s political career would be over.

Again, looking at those numbers, there is simply no way to justify the claim that O’Toole ‘grew’ the CPC.

Rather, it shrank, and became more divided.

If voters want left-wing policy, they’ll vote for left-wing parties

Now that we can see how the evidence points to the failure of O’Toole’s left-wing strategy, it’s important to really note why it failed.

The big thing here is ‘framing.’

Those who can frame an issue tend to be the winners on that issue.

A key battle in politics is to have your ‘frame’ or ‘worldview’ be the dominant frame.

For example, when Ronald Reagan said “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”, he successfully framed government intervention as a negative, and less government as a positive.

When Stephen Harper framed the carbon tax as a ‘tax on everything,’ he successfully framed that policy as a negative, which crushed the hopes of Stephane Dion and the Liberals in 2008.

Those who win the framing battle generally win.

Sadly, Justin Trudeau continues to win that battle, and he received a lot of help from Erin O’Toole.

Here is Justin Trudeau’s framing:

“Carbon taxes are the only way to save the planet.”

“Scary-looking guns are evil regardless of actual crime stats.”

“More government spending is the answer.”

“Social conservatism is an unacceptable viewpoint, and anything that isn’t ‘woke’ is far-right.”

“Libertarianism is selfish and dangerous.”

“The establishment media gets to define the range of acceptable opinion & discussion.”

“Government is an activist force for good.”

Jagmeet Singh’s framing is similar, so we can call that the Liberal/NDP frame.

Now ask yourself this:

Did Erin O’Toole present any opposite framing on this issues?

Or, did he accept the Liberal/NDP frame, and then argue within the framing boundaries set by his opponents?

I think we know the answer.

This is the big problem.

The O’Toole approach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

His supporters say Canada is a left-wing country, so they move to the left. The left-wing frame is thus unchallenged, and the country goes further left. The CPC then chases the Liberals/NDP into an even more left-wing frame, and so on and so on.

The irony is that even if the CPC won an election once in a while with that strategy, they would simply preside over the government for a few years implementing left-wing ideas, before being defeated by someone promising even more left-wing ideas.

By contrast, a conservative frame would hold the potential of pulling the country to the right.

And when I say right, I’m not talking about some sort of socially-rigid nation. In fact, conservatism (at least true conservatism in Canada) is far closer to classic liberalism than the Liberals are, with an emphasis on individual rights and limits on government power. Indeed, many social conservatives in Canada now seek only to limit the ability of the state to impose left-wing values on them and their children, rather than seeking to impose right-wing values on everyone else.

The fact is, there is room in Canada for a principled, fiscally conservative party that focuses on individual rights, national pride, a smaller government, and more freedom.

And to get a sense of what that party could look like, and how it differs from the direction O’Toole is taking it, I’ll leave you with two videos to consider.

The first is Erin O’Toole’s concession speech.

The second is Pierre Poilievre’s victory speech.

Spencer Fernando

Photo – YouTube

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