The Conservative party will elect its next leader on May 27, 2017. From now until then, Canadians will hear only the most outrageous aspects of the campaign, thanks to our insatiable thirst for Kellie Leitch [cue eyeroll]....
The Conservative party will elect its next leader on May 27, 2017. From now until then, Canadians will hear only the most outrageous aspects of the campaign, thanks to our insatiable thirst for Kellie Leitch [cue eyeroll].
Depending on who you ask, there are various ways to rank the candidates. Maxime Bernier is on the right, Michael Chong is on the left of the right. Kellie Leitch led in fundraising as of November 1, but is barely comprehensible in French. Kevin O’Leary is sort of famous so he must be a threat. Deepak Obhrai wears a very nice scarf when he goes out, and so on.
Due in part to the crowded field of candidates, journalists have bounced between obligatory coverage of debates, to picking up on the most sensational aspects of the campaign. We’ve heard far too much about Kellie Leitch’s take on “Canadian Values” and not enough about what Andrew Scheer will do, for example. Scheer is the only candidate with support from Conservative parliamentarians and activists from every province.
The leadership race is critical: the next leader of the Conservative Party will either pull back the reigns and move the party towards the centre, or go even more to the extreme right. Union members stand to lose a great deal if their organizations sit on the sidelines and simply watch.
But deciding how to get involved isn’t straightforward. No one should have any illusions of the power that buying a membership will offer. Getting directly involved by joining the party will simply become a fast donation.
It is also hard to intervene in policy discussions, as the range of views is so narrow that there’s consensus among candidates on some of the most important policy questions. The 14 candidates all agree that tax cuts create jobs, even though there is vigorous debate among economists on whether or not this is true. Such consensus makes it hard to influence debate on economic policy.
But there are two ways in which unions can, and should participate in the leadership race. The first is by talking directly to members with an eye to members who might vote Conservative, or who might even hold a Conservative Party membership.
Executive committees should be in the habit of issuing brief statements to their members about comments or promises made by Conservative leadership candidates. If cutting taxes is supposed to be the main driver of the economy, what happens when those tax cuts result in job losses in the public sector? What happens when your community relies on public sector jobs for its local economy? In an economic downturn, when jobs in the resource industry slow down, public sector jobs tend to be the most important lifeline to buoy communities: how does rhetoric about lower taxes fit with this reality?
More important is how the candidates view working people. Lisa Raitt challenged Kevin O’Leary to tell union members directly that he would jail them for simply being part of a union, at least according to comments he has made in the past. This is an explosive opinion, but it’s not likely that O’Leary is alone in his hatred of unionized workers. Even Lisa Raitt, who is among the cohort of moderate candidates, has a sketchy history of respecting collective bargaining. She intervened in various negotiations when she was a federal cabinet minister.
Promoting these positions to union members, and explaining what they would mean to non-union members, is critical. After all, if the leadership race is a pre-election exercise that’s meant to broadly promote the Conservative Party, influencing the message by talking directly with our members makes a lot of sense.
The second way that unions can get involved is by participating in the national conversation about the race. This means consistently reminding Conservative voters about the difficulty that certain candidates with certain opinions will have forming government. Union spokespersons can’t leave this work up to pundits and journalists alone. The candidates should be called out every time they make an anti-worker comment.
Labour activists can’t see this race as an event by and for Conservatives alone. We need to be there, however we can be. We should be challenging anti-worker politics, debunking anti-worker myths and reminding the candidates that Conservatives policies that slash and burn public services are both deeply unpopular and dangerous.