This is a tad off topic for the blog, but quite on topic for the times. Today is an interesting vote for leadership in one of the two primary parties in Canada.
Canada has a parliamentary system, which means that we elect individuals that are registered with a party, and that party elects their own leader. The party that can collect the most votes, either on their own or as a group, forms government. There are dozens of countries with this system. Those of that were/are in the Commonwealth only have a few parties. Others often have 6+. The advantage of this system is that it generally offers more representation because it’s near impossible to have an outright majority, and the governing party is based on compromise. In a 2 party parliament, you often get massive and ever increasing political swings. I won’t get into Republics too much, but just say that they have historically proven to be the least effective method of governing due to the concentration of power and corruption in a single role. It’s simply impossible for a single person to represent millions, so they don’t.
How we got here
Anyhow, that’s not the point of this post. It is about a fracture in Canadian politics. We have 5 main parties here, though only 2 have ever managed at the federal level. Liberals are center-left, Conservatives are right, NDP are left, Bloq Quebequois are centre left (they are a provincial party, which is another topic), and then the Green (they are as you can guess). The Liberal party has been around since the start of this country, generally hovering near the center with a traditionally socially-left/financial-right structure. The Conservatives are different. They were a founding party (center-right) which was all but abolished in the 2003 following some atrocious financial reforms (they lost 151 seats, which was more than half of the total amount of seats in Parliament). They merged at that point with the Reform party, which was a full-right leaning party. This effectively unified the right, and provided them a new party that governed for a long period of time. The lack of social media meant that the fringe elements could be controlled somewhat.
In 2015, the Conservatives were in the election and launched a “barbaric practices” hotline to call in if you saw people doing things “un-Canadian”. This wasn’t the only event, but the culmination of multiple culturally divisive efforts by the party that culminated with them losing 60 seats and the Liberals claiming 148. That was a very large swing. The Conservatives realized that the fringe elements were taking more air and spend efforts to squash them. (As an aside, the leader Stephen Harper, was a staunch delegator at the start of his term, and by the end became autocratic trying to control all these elements. It’s truly fascinating.) There was a leadership vote following the election and the one of the more populist members split to form the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). Conceptually, this is a libertarian party, but in factual matters is built entirely on fringe/conspiracy elements.
The Conservatives have been unable to make inroads across Canada since, as the core of the country is socially liberal and financially conservative, with the social part having more weight. Plus, the US President was a massive red flag here where people associated the Conservatives with the Republican party (e.g. they are against everything nearly everything, want to help business, don’t believe in the environment or health care, and have no systems to help individuals.) In 2020 they elected a new leader (Erin O’Toole) who was put in on a “true blue” platform, meaning the right/right of the spectrum. The 2021 elections came, the leader moved towards center (which was smart) and they still lost seats. The party split became more evident and the fringe elements wanted him gone the next week. The last 6 months have been primarily about Conservative infighting, and today is an early vote on their leadership. It would seem that 30% of the party willing to vote to let him go. That is a substantial group.
A party that is not united cannot unite a country, that’s a simple fact. The last 6 months have amplified a fundamental challenge in any party that dominates a spectrum, there are simply too many voices to please at all times. Party loyalty is not a given fact anymore (at least in Canada) and that assuming the middle will stick with you is no longer the case.
This party leadership vote has one of 4 possible outcomes.
- O’Toole wins and stays. The factionists accept the outcome and the party finally unifies and accepts that the centre is the way forward.
- O’Toole wins and stays. The factionists do not accept the outcome and continue to sow discord within the party, or create a new one.
- O’Toole loses. A new party election comes along and the party moves solidly to the right. That leaves the center wide open for the Liberals.
- O’Toole loses. A new party election comes along and the party as a whole agrees that the middle is the way forward.
I won’t weigh the odds of this coming to fruition, but it would be a longshot to say that any fringe element will be happy with any outcome here (that is the fundamental aspect of a fringe element, the unwillingness to accept any view but your own). If O’Toole leaves, then they have no leader for a year and need to fight for relevance in that election, then somehow sell the fringe to the rest of Canada. The center can’t be happy either, as they just want this in the rearview and get back to being a federally relevant party.
This is one of those events where it appears that everyone loses, no matter the outcome. Quite curious as to how this all plays out.