Progressive Conservatives used to be the nicer face of conservatism. You could have fiscal responsibility and social progressivism without any apparent contradiction. For a long time you could vote Progressive Conservative to punish a Liberal government that had gotten too uppity for its own good, and if you lived in one of Canada’s larger cities you could call yourself one without too many people looking at you sideways.
But then a funny thing happened. The federal PC Party collapsed. The Ontario PC Party lost 4 elections in a row and are now led by a man who is most definitely not a Progressive Conservative. PCs are out of power provincially in the East except for Newfoundland and Labrador, where it looks like they are on borrowed time. Alberta’s 44 year PC dynasty crumbled, Manitoba’s franchise faces an uphill battle, and they are nonexistent in Saskatchewan, Quebec, B.C., and the North.
Here’s how I think it happened. First, nobody was ever quite sure what a Progressive Conservative was.
We certainly know what a Progressive Conservative isn’t. It isn’t a Liberal, and it isn’t too progressive and it isn’t too conservative. That’s a nice compromise, but compromises don’t motivate people.
At best, voters would park their votes with the PCs because the other options were too scary, weird or corrupt. Then, when another option looked more suitable, the voters would bolt.
Now when you are a compromise party, governing as though you will govern forever is a terrible idea. But that’s exactly what PCs do. They think Canadians are a far too cautious and meek people to entertain the idea of voting for an “ideological” party.
Who will ever forget Jim Prentice’s dismissive attitude towards Rachel Notley at the leader’s debate? Or how the Ontario PCs delivered a budget from the floor of Magna Auto Parts? Or Kim Campbell’s remark that elections were no time to discuss serious issues?
Even when they do lose, they assume it’s a temporary setback and refuse to change, thinking that the voters will come back to their senses. The Ontario PC Party is perhaps the worst offender, running famously clumsy, tone-deaf campaigns while ignoring and silencing their critics.
It’s a fine way to repay voters and supporters for cautiously trusting you. And so, parties that were farther to the left and right began to find more Canadians were listening.
These days, campus lefties have a better shot of entering a Canadian legislature than ever before. Rachel Notley may soon be nominating someone who believes George W. Bush created ISIS into her cabinet.
Hands up, those of you who would trust Progressive Conservatives to stand up to left-wingers who want to slap trigger warnings on everything? I didn’t think so.
We’re not the only ones, either. Supposedly left-leaning Torontonians tapped Rob Ford and his eponymous Nation to try and clean up the mess David Miller made, while taking a pass on the compromise candidates favoured by PC elites. Then, Monte McNaughton shook up the boring PC Party of Ontario leadership race and helped Patrick Brown defeat the Red Tory establishment by a very wide margin.
It may be that Canadian politics is just getting more polarized. That would explain the movement of the federal and Ontario Liberals to the left, while the BC and Quebec Liberals shift right.
One thing that can be said for Liberals is that they are savvy enough to move to where the power lies. That leaves the PCs stubbornly clinging to a centre that increasingly cannot hold.
So, who killed the Progressive Conservative? The sad answer is: They did it to themselves.
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