Don Martin: A nasty fracture surfaces as the Tory leadership race kicks off
Two opposing political poles are on a collision course for the Conservative leadership – and the winner could be the leader of the Liberal party.
Moderate, hugely experienced, dignified but largely forgotten four decades after entering the federal fray, former party leader and Quebec premier Jean Charest will officially enter the race in Calgary on Thursday, presumably sporting a Stetson.
He faces the daunting challenge of beating Pierre Poilievre, a right-wing arsonist with two years experience in Harper’s junior cabinet, whose main skill appears to be unleashing devastating clips and banter on his hapless rivals.
Bring them together in a fierce brawl and you’ve got a nightmarish showdown for the Conservative party – and maybe a dream matchup for the Liberals.
But consider the “price” offered in the victory of this leadership.
The Tory caucus is hopelessly split into hard-right, middle-right and moderate factions, its members loaded with too many anti-vaxxers and convoy cowboys while some MPs harbor a grudge against past leaders, until who was on the guest list to drain Stornoway’s wine cellar.
It’s a deeper, longer-term divide for a party that’s supposedly close to forming a government to replace tired Liberals under a lackluster leader.
If Charest wins, which seems doubtful without much help selling memberships from potential rival Patrick Brown, he will face an impossible fix mission that could make his post-referendum reunification effort Captain Canada made easy.
He will face more than a few MPs and their assorted sleuths who have already declared him unfit to lead the party for being too left-leaning. Some of them may have to be expelled to find accommodation in the increasingly unbalanced People’s Party under Maxime Bernier.
But that’s the easy part. The Progressive Conservative party he led in the mid-1990s no longer exists, until the label “progressive” is dropped from its name. Its political preferences will not easily adjust to the drift members want to take – and even that direction will have to be changed to attract a general election victory.
As for Poilievre, he better be one hell of a chameleon. He will have to go from standing proudly alongside truck convoys and adoring every additional barrel of oil production to forging the connections with the climate-worried, mid-lane Ontario voters he will need to win a general election. Spoiler alert: it’s tough. Ask Erin O’Toole.
And he will have to learn to play nice in a huddle where he is seen as a hostile force with a difficult personality.
All told, there is the risk that any leadership result will put the Tories in a snap election followed by another decade of walking in the desert.
But, but, but. . . there’s also the possibility of a Liberal meltdown that could give the Conservatives a ride in the Prime Minister’s Office under any leader with a pulse.
Trudeau is increasingly surrounded by stubborn problems, from his sloppy handling of the trucking convoy to consumer pain at the pump and an energy crisis in Europe that has the cabinet fighting climate change over filling the void. Russian energy sanctions with an increase in Canadian oil production.
A satiating election is not entirely out of the question.
Yet, faced with this golden opportunity to drive regime change, the Conservatives seem determined to fight over who has the most blue blood to be leader instead of debating important questions about the government’s fiscal, environmental and health orientations. left.
But there’s another stark contrast between the two titans as they enter into this protracted battle.
Being someone who carries no social-conservative background, who has a record on climate change and who has managed to effectively reduce the deficit in Quebec, Charest is the candidate the Liberals are desperately hoping to lose.
And unless there’s a kinder, gentler version of Pierre Poilievre than the one I’ve watched for eight years, liberals are salivating that he’s winning.
As one insider told me, Poilievre, as a Tory leader, would be an arrogant, mean-spirited version of Jason Kenney, without a government.
So, with Charest entering in two days, the stakes become extremely high for the government-in-waiting party. Deep divisions are emerging between the moderate man of yesterday and the far-right conservative turn of an untested MP.
With the leadership vote six months away, it creates the risk of a Conservative lose-lose scenario — and another Liberal victory.
This is the bottom line.