‘Who speaks for the centre?’ A new group of Conservatives says the party’s path to victory is right
Article by Stephanie Levitz
OTTAWA — Dozens of conservatives are mobilizing to form a new advocacy group in response to concerns that centrist voters are being excluded from political debate in Canada.
Center Ice Conservatives will profile itself as a landing place for moderate conservatives to make their voices heard, in hopes it will eventually also attract those deterred by the progressive direction of the current Liberal government, members of the group said in an exclusive. interview with the star this week.
The effort coincides with the conservative party leadership race, which is already mired in tension over whether the party is preparing to flip in a populist or a progressive direction.
But members of Center Ice went out of their way to emphasize that their primary purpose is to be part of a conversation about the party’s future, and that they are not active in response to – or in support of – the campaign. of a candidate.
The hope is to send a signal to all of them: Candidates must pay attention to the voters who will help the Conservatives win the general election.
“You know, I know, everyone knows — winning a party’s leadership means calling on the grassroots, but becoming Prime Minister of Canada means winning swing ridings in Canada, with swing voters being centrist,” said Rick Peterson, a former leadership candidate and the co-founder of the new group.
“And that’s what we want to represent.”
Conservatives have increased their share of the vote in the last two federal elections, but not enough to come to power.
After the 2019 election, Andrew Scheer stepped down as party leader amid much debate over whether his socially conservative views meant he could never lead the party to victory.
After the 2021 elections, Erin O’Toole was forced to resign as leader because his attempt to present the party as more centrist also failed to lead the party to government.
Which candidate will prevail in this race is far from certain. A new leader will not be elected until September 10 and the names on the ballot will not be clear until the end of April.
So far, eight candidates have applied: Leona Alleslev, Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Marc Dalton, Leslyn Lewis and Pierre Poilievre.
Poilievre runs a populist message calling for the removal of government from people’s lives, and his rallies draw thousands of people. His supporters say this is a sign that he is injecting new energy and enthusiasm for conservative ideas into a previously disaffected electorate.
He has also attacked Charest and Brown, portraying them as little more than “liberal-lite” politicians because of their progressive conservative roots.
It echoes dissatisfaction with O’Toole’s push to the center, and a belief among some Tories that the former leader’s strategy will not put their party on the path to power.
On the other hand, Center Ice supporters point to the successes that progressive conservative parties – and even new democratic parties – have had at the provincial level with a more centrist approach.
And there are also conservatives who see the historic NDP liberal deal as opening a new pool of voters at the federal level.
That agreement allows the liberal minority government to remain in power until 2025 in exchange for implementing some key NDP priorities, including national dental and pharmaceutical programs and expanding affordable housing programs.
The roughly $10 billion price tag on those pledges raises eyebrows among so-called “blue liberals,” who worry about what those spending will do to the government’s budget trajectory.
Among Center Ice’s roughly 50 early backers are those who would fall into the “blue liberals” category, Peterson said, though he declined to name names.
Ann Francis, a two-time conservative candidate in Montreal, said her experience of knocking is that voters are behind party labels, not ideas.
“I actually think people just don’t understand anymore what the parties represent and what the center is,” Francis said.
She serves on Center Ice’s advisory board to explain what that means and where conservative ideas fit.
Peterson said Center Ice is also a response to other well-organized groups from other factions of the conservative movement.
“There are many groups out there,” he said, “but who speaks for the center?”
Many of those groups — such as social media juggernaut Canada Proud, firearms enthusiasts and socially conservative organizations — are already playing a role in the leadership contest, in some cases actively endorsing and supporting specific candidates.
Not Center Ice, Peterson said. The group also counts among its organizers people involved in a number of different leadership competitions, including Poilievre and Brown.
Azim Jiwani supports Brown and is also the Executive Director of Center Ice.
He said he sees politics turning into a polarizing force in Canada for many reasons.
Among them, parties are increasingly leaning on activist bases whose own agenda then drives the party.
At the same time, Jiwani says nuanced and thoughtful debates fall by the wayside as politicians try to gain traction by launching intense calls that are good at generating buzz online.
The result, he said, is that the nuance needed to make policy is lost, and no one is looking for the middle ground, where elections are won.
“If the Conservative party doesn’t have a strategy for appealing to swing voters or doesn’t have groups advocating swing voters, pushing the party, or pushing the movement in general, then we’ll continue to have the same problem.”
Via The Toronto Star