Don Martin: An extremely polarized fight to define the Conservative Party
The 14 participants in the Conservative leadership candidates' bilingual debate are seen in Moncton, N.B. on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. Conservatives vote for a new party leader on May 27, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Published Thursday, January 5, 2017 5:55PM EST
The bonds have been straining for a year. Yesterday, the last traces of Conservative Party unity snapped.
Ironically it fell to MP Lisa Raitt, the mostly-conciliatory former cabinet minister of many portfolios, to drive a wedge deep into the party.
She unleashed uncharacteristic vitriol against probable rival Kevin O’Leary and ideological opposite Kellie Leitch. It won’t be easy to dial back her views on their dangerous unworthiness to lead and their inability to win the next election if they succeed.
But what Raitt did, by accident or design, was create two Conservative parties vying for the leadership vacated by Stephen Harper.
That number might actually be four if you count O’Leary as a stand-alone force of personality and the unique policies of libertarian Maxime Bernier.
Thus, we have an extremely polarized fight to define the party. Justin Trudeau will face one of four very different Conservative fiscal, environmental and social policy platforms in the 2019
election, depending on the outcome.
Victory by Kellie Leitch or Steven Blaney and their refugee-screening, immigration-cutting, Trump-admiring, elite-bashing mentality, will lurch the Conservatives hard right and drive out dozens of party progressives ahead of the election, including interim leader Rona Ambrose.
Victory by any of the moderate middles – Raitt, Erin O’Toole or Michael Chong - will make it difficult for the so-called pitchfork patrol to stick around.
And then there’s O’Leary, the reality TV star with no political experience but valuable recognition as a business guru.
It’s become clear O’Leary is deadly serious about running – and winning – as he is assembling a team straddling party divides with a deep database of contacts to mine once the campaign launches.
But being a star still demands a ground game to sell memberships in 338 ridings – something he lacks along with French language skills to enamor Quebecers.
This all sets up a Conservative leadership convention which defies predictability on a ballot fractured into ideological silos. Combined with O’Leary’s big-name energy jolt, it’s the perfect storm for pure political entertainment.
The big question is which party is still standing when the storm ends.
That’s the last word.