Substance In The Tory Race

November 1st, 2016 | M. Menuck
For a political party that (if the mainstream media is to be believed) is lost in the wilderness with no realistic hope of regaining power in the foreseeable future, the Conservative Party of Canada certainly seems to have no shortage of enthusiastic aspirants to the leadership. At this time, there are a near dozen declared candidates so far, with several other likely names still being floated about who have yet to formally declare one way or another. True, as the press has bemoaned to no end, most of the perceived front runners, such as Peter Mackay and Jason Kenny, have declined to throw their hats into the ring, but there is no shortage of seasoned former cabinet ministers and upcoming backbenchers among those who have put their names forward.

For all the quality of the candidates, the race thus far has been sadly lacking in quality platforms, instead running heavy on style and personality at the expense of substance and policy. There have been a few high-profile announcements, such as Kellie Leitch's suggestion that immigrants be screened for Canadian values and Stephen Blaney's recent proposal to ban the niqab among all public servants, but for the most part the race seems to have been more of a contest of who can tell the best motivational life story and present themself as the best all-around nice chap.

The one glaring exception to this has been Maxime Bernier, the Quebec MP and former cabinet minister, who has been touring the country promoting an unabashedly libertarian set of proposals as he campaigns for the top job. It has been a welcome breath of fresh air. Bernier certainly cannot be accused of timidity or refusing to stand by his principles, despite representing a rural Quebec riding with a heavy dairy farmer presence he's come out swinging in favour of abolishing Canada's supply management system, arguing that the status quo penalizes consumers with inflated prices for diary and poultry while serving no purpose other than enriching a tiny number of domestic farmers.

This has been the general theme of Bernier's campaign so far (he's also proposed loosening regulations on the telecoms industry to promote more competition and consumer choice), emphasizing how market based policies can improve the livelihood of Canadian voters. It's all very well to opine from on high about how supply side economics creates a rising tide that lifts all boats, or how the competition of the free market locks human capital to create greater prosperity for all, but if you want to actually persuade people, a far wiser approach is to make the case for how their actual lives will be made easier through such things as cheaper milk at the grocery store or a smaller bill every month for their Wifi.

Most interestingly on another front, the socially liberal Bernier has also promised that if he is chosen as leader he won't block attempts by MPs to reopen debates on issues such as abortion, arguing that this is their democratic right as elected parliamentarians. This should be contrasted against several candidates who openly identify as being on the socially conservative wing of the party, who have all demurely refused to take a stance on such issues, and stands in direct opposition to Justin Trudeau who has made it clear that pro-life individuals need not even apply to his Liberal Party.

For all this, it remains a reality of Canadian politics that leadership races ultimately come down to which campaign does a better job of selling new memberships and fundraising. Winning often comes down to who has the better ground game and campaign organization, not who is the more eloquent speaker or deeper thinker. On this front Bernier has been one of the most successful candidates thus far at attracting donations to his campaign, rivalled only by Kellie Leitch (no information is available this far on the number of new members signed up or who by).

It is still early days in the race for the Conservative leadership, with the vote itself not until next year. On the question of who has made the best first impression in the race thus far, though, the hands down winner is Maxime Bernier.