Politics blog: A breakdown of the Conservative leadership race

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is in the midst of a leadership race, and it is unclear what the future of the party will be. A relatively new party to the right of the political spectrum has to come together to form a strong opposition to the Liberals. To do so, they need a leader who can hold the party together the way former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did.

Among the 14 candidates in the leadership race, we see how conservatives differ on a large number of issues, united mainly by fiscal policy. In the past, the division was clear: there are progressive conservatives, and there are social conservatives. However, in the era of Brexit and Donald Trump, I would argue there is a third division of the right; a nationalist, anti-elitist, security-oriented branch. So who are the front-runners of the leadership race?

Based on recent polling, Maxime Bernier is without a doubt a real contender for the position. The Quebec City Member of Parliament (MP) and former cabinet minister is a libertarian’s dream. He wants to end supply management, lower the corporate tax to 10 per cent, and defund the CBC. More than just a fiscal conservative, Bernier embodies the quest for freedom behind conservative ideology. With his charisma and strong ideals, he could definitely challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election.

Notable progressive-leaning conservatives in the race include Ontario MPs Lisa Raitt and Michael Chong. Raitt, who has a master’s degree in chemistry and a law degree, was a minister with the last government. Raitt has proven to be an eloquent speaker, garnering much respect over the years. She has focused her campaign on balanced budgets and developing the natural resources sector.

Chong is the furthest to the left in the race, with his support of revenue-neutral carbon pricing as means of protecting the environment. His stance on the topic clashes with the majority of the party’s opposition to the carbon tax, which makes it difficult to imagine he could unite the party if he were leader. However, in a federal election, he would match Trudeau in terms of progressive values, yet present a more reliable economic plan than the Liberals.

In terms of caucus support, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole have the most support from fellow MPs. Andrew Scheer, with 24 endorsements from MPs, was the youngest Speaker of the House of Commons at the age of 32. A more socially conservative MP, he is pro-life, but does not plan to bring in legislation on social topics, and instead is focusing on uniting all wings of the party. This is exactly the kind of unity the party needs to form a strong opposition to the Liberals and win the 2019 elections.

Erin O’Toole has 22 endorsements from MPs, and was the former minister of veterans’ affairs. He was an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and later became a lawyer. He has demonstrated an understanding of the needs of millennials, with his proposed tax credit for underemployed youth and student debt, a demographic conservatives need to reach out to if they want to win.

Finally, there are the Trump-inspired leadership hopefuls, Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary. Leitch, a former minister and orthopaedic pediatric surgeon with an MBA, is ironically campaigning on anti-elitism, and emphasizes border security, with a proposed “values test” those wanting to come to Canada would have to pass. Though her impressive career speaks for itself, her campaign feels phony, and her divisive rhetoric goes against the need for unity in the party.

As for Kevin O’Leary, the fact the businessman and TV personality thinks he can nonchalantly enter the race, refuse to participate in debates, all while not being able to speak one of Canada’s official languages, makes his leadership bid highly questionable.

Conservatives will be voting for their next leader on May 27, 2017.

– Photo by Amy Yee