Erin O’Toole’s days as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada ended last week after a relatively brief but, arguably, eventful 17 months. While some may feel a period of self-reflection should be the first order of business for the Party, a few leadership hopefuls are already beginning to stake out their case for the top job.
The success of the next Conservative leader will boil down to how they are able to knit the band together, hit the right keys, play the right notes, be harmonious, complement the composer’s score, and set a pleasing tone. They will need to strike a chord that voters will listen to and offer a new channel frequency that more Canadians will be curious about and feel invited to tune into.
Today’s Conservative Party includes adherents who ultimately fall into several subsets or parts of these groups—fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, libertarians, red Tories, populists, soft-nationalists, regionalists, and so on. Given the many factions and philosophies under the conservative tent, a future leader will only be successful, as Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper were, if they can effectively coordinate and manage this coalition of interests within the Party. It will require a leader who can command party discipline, ensure all MPs are listened to, encouraged, engaged, and volume and tone around opinions and views sometimes calibrated, all in an effort to get the best voice out of the choir. The goal is to ultimately offer more voters a credible and realistic alternative. Needless to say, it is a tall order.
In practical terms, even though the Party membership ultimately picks the leader, a future leader will need to have the full support of the current CPC caucus—because it’s the group that will be fighting the next election whenever it comes. Certain candidates can be expected to be very strong selling memberships. MP Pierre Poilievre who has confirmed he is in and former MP and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown (should he run) are two examples. But while membership sales can represent a direct path to victory, arguably it will only get the next leader so far. Importantly, the new leader needs to be able to effectively channel, harness and coordinate that disparate mix of MPs, their views and opinions scattered across the conservative ideological spectrum. Erin O'Toole didn't do that. Either did Andrew Scheer.
Mulroney and Harper, although stylistically very different, were both successful leaders, composing the lyrics, arranging the notes, and directing the ensembles, all with the goal of maintaining party unity and putting forward relatable music. It wasn’t always in key or pitch perfect, but how effectively the next leader can be the maestro that this band so dearly needs will determine if they avoid being yet another one hit wonder.
A few days in and the future race already promises to be an intriguing one to watch. A number of new names and potential candidates are surfacing. The NATIONAL team looks forward to monitoring the comings and goings closely and will offer more commentary and analysis as the race unfolds. In the end, it is about finding a new permanent leader for Canada’s Official Opposition—the “Government-in-Waiting”. It is an important part of Canada’s political process, for partisans and non-partisans alike.