CPC Chaos Is A Result Of Abandoning Principle & Centralizing Power In ‘The Leader’

You can get away with centralizing power if your leader has a great read on what the party membership wants. And if a leader lacks that ability, giving party members a say can fill the gap. But a highly-centralized party structure that also abandons their members is a recipe for disaster.

Stephen Harper was a strong advocate of decentralization when it came to federal policy and the relationship between the federal government and the provinces.

He also supported lowering taxes, which represents the most direct decentralization possible: Less money in the hands of the government, and more in the hands of the Canadians who earned.

As a party leader and Prime Minister however, Harper ran a very centralized ship.

While the degree of Harper’s centralization was overblown due to Harper’s taciturn persona – Trudeau has been even more of an organizational centralizer – he certainly wasn’t a laissez-faire person when it came to management.

So, why did he succeed for so long?

Because he had a great read on what the membership of his party, and Conservative Canadians in general – believed in.

The general criticism Harper received from the press – especially early in his political career – was that he would be too right-wing, and he spent much of his time trying to assuage the fear of his supposed ‘hidden agenda,’ an agenda which of course never materialized.

At the same time, Harper generally stuck close to Conservative principles, and when he deviated from those principles he quickly tried to find his way back.

For example, Harper was consistent on cutting taxes, and even after the global financial crisis, he made good on his claim that massive deficits would be short-term, leaving the Trudeau government with a balanced budget and a relatively stable economy.

Furthermore, Harper managed a CPC Caucus that consisted of libertarians, social conservatives, progressive conservatives, and business conservatives. While making it clear that his government wouldn’t change abortion law, the CPC still had room for people with different views on social issues, all of whom managed to work together on the issues that united conservatives, while having a ‘big-tent’ philosophy on the issues that they differed on.

In short, Harper could get away with his centralizing leadership style since he remained connected with the CPC base.

Now, had Harper been unable to connect with the CPC base, his alternative would have been to empower his colleagues more, and run a more decentralized party. Less central control, and more powerful local riding associations would have helped the party leadership at least avoid any massively destructive moves that would split the party.

All of this is to say that a party leader can either be an organizational centralizer who is in tune with the members, or someone who lacks that connection but is willing to empower those who connect with the base, in order to avoid abandoning core principles.

But what happens if a leader both lacks a connection with the party base, and is also a big-time centralizer?

Well, that brings us to Erin O’Toole.

Running for the CPC leadership, O’Toole promised to be ‘True Blue.’

He ripped Peter MacKay as a ‘Liberal-Lite’ candidate, and said that was the wrong approach for the party.

Then, after becoming party leader, he shifted the party to the left – the exact opposite of what he claimed he would do.

And he wasn’t even subtle about it.

After signing pledges not to bring in a carbon tax, he promised to do exactly that, enraging the CPC base and surrendering to the Liberal narrative that Canadians have to be financially punished to ‘save the planet’.

His carbon tax proposal was deeply statist, which would have forced you to give your money to the government, who would then let banks manage it so you could ‘choose’ from a list of state-approved ‘green’ products.

After having defended Derek Sloan during the leadership race, Sloan was then pushed out for accepting a donation that was processed by the party itself, an obvious pretext to throw him under the bus.

Then, O’Toole pledged to not balance the budget for the next 10 years.

Finally, during the election campaign itself, O’Toole ‘amended’ the CPC position on guns to more closely resemble the Trudeau Liberals, and then said that provinces could keep the Trudeau carbon tax even if the CPC formed government.

Surrender after surrender after surrender.

The result?

The CPC lost seats, lost raw votes, and finished with a slightly smaller percentage of the popular vote than they did in 2019.

In effect, the CPC under O’Toole sold out their principles and lost.

What did they think would happen?

Unsurprisingly, the CPC is now in turmoil.

O’Toole has tried to hold on by making moves like reappointing Pierre Poilievre to the finance critic role (removing Poilievre in the first place was a huge mistake). That move, while a very smart one, doesn’t change the fact that a large portion of the party base feels betrayed by O’Toole.

Ironically, Peter MacKay wouldn’t have had this same problem, since he didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t.

People can at least respect someone who tells them who they are. But what O’Toole did was pretend to be one thing, and then once he grasped the power of being CPC leader, transformed into something completely different.

So, it’s not only that many factions of the party feel disappointed by O’Toole, it’s that they feel deeply betrayed, because they have in fact been betrayed.

Look at it this way.

In the 2021 campaign the CPC didn’t offer fiscal conservatism, didn’t offer social conservatism, and didn’t offer much in the way of libertarianism.

Basically, they didn’t offer much of anything to their core voters, abandoned the few things they did offer, and then were shocked when many of their voters either stayed home or voted for the PPC.

Members deserve respect

CPC members deserve to be treated with respect, because the party only survives because of their contributions, both financial and through volunteer work.

Yet, the CPC appears to believe they can simply ignore the views and principles of their members, and then just punish and purge anyone who points out how wrong that is.

Consider what has happened to Senator Denise Batters.

Batters launched a petition calling for O’Toole to subject himself to a leadership review.

Now, as a result, she has been kicked out of the CPC National Caucus:

“Tonight, Erin O’Toole tried to silence me for giving our #CPC members a voice.

I will not be silenced by a leader so weak that he fired me VIA VOICEMAIL.

Most importantly, he cannot suppress the will of our Conservative Party members!

Sign the petition:”

Reports also indicate O’Toole has acquired about 70 MPs to pledge that they will remove other MPs who question his leadership.

The party itself appears to be disorganized:

“Tonight on @CTV_PowerPlay I asked @rbatherson if there would be any reprisal against @denisebatters and he said no, it was just that her petition was unconstitutional and otherwise it was a matter of free speech. A few hours later she was booted from #cpc caucus. What changed?”

O’Toole also released a strange statement, trying to spin his defeat as a win:

“Full statement from O’Toole on Batters’ expulsion. “Canadians elected Conservatives to hold Justin Trudeau accountable…” is a strange euphemism for “We lost the election.” The implication here is that caucus members aren’t allowed to speak about the party’s leadership.”

Aggression against allies, weakness against statist opponents

The treatment of Batters, and the effort to purge the party of O’Toole opponents will only make the CPC turmoil worse.

The problem isn’t those who oppose O’Toole, it’s the fact that O’Toole’s abandonment of principle and disconnect from the party base has generated so much opposition.

O’Toole simply doesn’t command the respect to rule with an iron fist, and the more he tries to silence his opponents the more he will be compared with Justin Trudeau, and the more people will leave the CPC, or fight even harder against him from within.

The saddest part of all of this is that O’Toole only seems to show a ruthless streak when dealing with Conservative Canadians, yet shows repeated weakness when dealing with Liberal and statist opponents, as evidenced by his surrender to the Liberal narrative and repeated abandonment of principle in the face of any mild criticism.

That approach will only further divide the CPC, and leave members feeling more and more disrespected at a time when we need the principled voices of Conservative Canadians to be heard more than ever.

Spencer Fernando

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