As was reported last week, the federal Conservative Party has decided to remove Erin O’Toole as leader, sending the party to another leadership race. But this time, picking their leader is a decision they can’t afford to get wrong.
This race will be more than just about choosing the party’s next leader, it will also be a referendum on several things.
For one thing, the party’s image and unity have been called into question several times since Stephen Harper resigned. This is a party that has been on its fourth leader since that resignation. Keeping count, that’s two full-time leaders and two interim leaders. Since then, the people who have served at the helm include Andrew Scheer, Rona Ambrose, Erin O’Toole, and now Candice Bergen as Interim leader.
I remember being at Erin O’Toole’s first leadership campaign in 2016, the race Andrew Scheer won, and one of the questions Erin was asked at that time was how he could unite the Conservative Party. Six years later, the same question about healing the divides within the party remains for the party’s next leader. The Conservative caucus needs to unify around one leader to engender voters’ trust in the party.
This will also be a race about the party’s views going forward. Erin O’Toole captured that in his Twitter posts before being voted out as party leader. “There are two roads open to the Conservative Party of Canada. One is the road of Randy Hillier and Derek Sloan. It is angry, negative, and extreme. It is a dead-end, one that would see the party of Confederation become the NDP of the right. The other road is to better reflect the Canada of 2022. To recognize, conservatism is organic, not static, and a winning message is one of inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope.”
This will be a race between social conservative views and those called more progressive or moderate.
As well, a good indicator for the party will be whether their leadership race can stay relevant in a year that already includes provincial and municipal elections. If the electorate gives the same attention to this race as the one involving Doug Ford or their local mayoral race, then the party has some hope of being able to woo voters back.
Simply put, this next leadership race will be about the party trying to find its way again. The party needs to find a leader to inspire Canadian voters. If they don’t, they risk ending the next election as official opposition again, or worse, as a third party.