Don Martin: Conservatives down to Scheer follies and hopeless hopefuls
OTTAWA -- Consider the unfathomable: We’re now in a country where Conservatives like premiers Doug Ford, Scott Moe and Brian Pallister look statesman-like while the federal lame-duck leader and his wannabes appear increasingly pathetic.
While those premiers work constructively and co-operatively to reopen their provinces, federal Conservative political priorities are a mixture of coronavirus China-bashing, lazy-worker-alleging and assault-gun-defending pitches to the party’s basest instincts.
This is a party that badly needs to widen support in the mushy middle, among youth and winning over turned-off urban voters, yet every stand they take seems more likely to repel those key demographics.
Consider Andrew Scheer, who still has more than 100 days to go before he becomes the trivia answer to the question: “Who was elected Conservative leader after Stephen Harper?”
His fixation on returning MPs to House of Commons accountability action in some form is not without merit, but Parliament hasn’t cracked anybody’s top-20 list of institutions Canadians in the real world desperately want reopened.
On issues they do care about, which is all coronavirus, all the time, Scheer went tone-deaf Monday by blasting Justin Trudeau for giving lazy members of the workforce so much relief money, it will act as “a tranquilizer” on the economic recovery when they refuse to report for work.
Oh puh-LEEZE. Sure, there will be abuses as billions of deficit dollars are fire-hosed out the door. But, trust me on this, very few workers will give up their jobs in a dark and stormy recession for five more months of doing puzzles on a government handout.
Then came Scheer’s attack on Trudeau’s semi-automatic weapons ban as a political stunt, parliamentary dodge and afront to the law-abiding hunters of this country.
While there’s room for criticism of these prohibitions, the typical Toronto voter hears this unappealing stance as gunowners arguing they need an AK-15 to hunt a duck. And there’s a pair of mallards sitting in front of my house right now they could knock off with a slingshot.
But, speaking of shooting, Scheer’s on the way out so this is a case of fish-meet-barrel. The key figures in this political drama are the pair frontrunning the race.
And yet, as we watch our society, economy and indeed our country transform, unravel and divide, Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole offer up a void of genuine charisma and defining policy ideas beyond same-old, same-old that cost their party the last election.
MacKay seems more preoccupied with tweeting political endorsements than offering substantive constructive criticism of the costliest cash redistribution program in Canadian history.
And then this so-called progressive Conservative declared himself ‘outraged’ at gun controls being rolled out in the aftermath of the Nova Scotia mass murder rampage.
Well, so what?
If Trudeau’s consult-footdrag-consult-again government finally tightens gun ownership regulations in the aftermath of a major tragedy involving guns, it’s doubtful the timing will turn off voters in the next campaign.
Mind you, Erin O’Toole went much further to allege it was an ineffective ploy to divide the nation and won’t save lives in any event.
Even Rick Anderson, the dean of Conservative strategists, couldn’t stomach that. “Man,” Anderson tweeted, “this is just awful dreck. Does the gun lobby actually write it for him?”
Somewhere along the pandemic road, the Conservatives have gone tone-deaf and vision-impaired.
They condemn China for covering up the virus, but not one of their own candidates for making a connection between the chief public health officer’s Hong Kong heritage and alleged disloyalty to Canada.
They demand a parliamentary sitting, but don’t take a stand for different and creative ways to improve the lot of Canadians in the struggle.
What’s particularly odd is how both the future leaders have charming, intelligent, self-deprecating personalities. They’d win over anyone who had a beer with them although, given this column, I might need a few kilometres of physical distancing to be safe if I joined them.
The reality is that not all Canadians are totally enamoured with Prime Minister Trudeau’s daily ability to throw deficit dollars at everything and everyone with an open palm. (I mean, seriously? Tens of millions to help American meatpacking giant Cargill Inc. create a safe workplace?)
Voters will, sooner or later, be looking for a likable alternative to the Liberal leader which, throughout our history, has always been the Conservative boss.
With just ten days left to bring in new members for the party’s August 21 vote, it’s time the two front-runners flattened their message to spread their appeal beyond the true-blue faithful.
If the Conservatives fail to sacrifice base instincts for broader appeal, they won’t have the power to do anything but sulk in opposition after the next election.
Then the party will go shopping for another new leader. Conservative Leader Doug Ford, anyone?