Recently the cartoon in a well-known national newspaper portrayed federal Conservatives as a herd of dinosaurs lining up to enter Erin O’Toole’s so-called ‘big blue tent.’ The dinosaurs the artist had in mind were the party’s social conservatives, (so-cons), who have been a thorn in O’Toole’s side since he became leader seven months ago. Despite his concerted efforts to declare the Conservatives a party of the moderate middle, there have been an embarrassing number of so-con “eruptions” lately, leading to so-con hero Derek Sloan’s unceremonious expulsion from the Conservative caucus.
As O’Toole is only too well aware, each and every problematic so-con pronouncement on abortion, stem cell research, LGBTQ rights, conversion therapy or Covid-19 vaccines only serves to strengthen the Trudeau Liberals’ hand in the next federal election. Imagine, then, what he must be thinking after he was handed a stunning setback on an entirely different issue by delegates at the Conservatives’ policy convention on the weekend.
Environmental issues have always been a challenge for the Conservatives. Stephen Harper, on whose watch Canada received a lifetime Colossal Fossil award at a 2013 UN conference on the environment, and his successor Andrew Scheer, who refused to address the issue at all, had cemented the party’s image as an out-of-step climate change denier. Knowing the party’s failure to address environmental issues cost them votes in the last election, O’T’oole’s speech on Friday night argued that the debate is over and climate change is real. He called on Conservatives to move forward and develop a meaningful set of policy proposals on climate change or risk losing again. Yet on Saturday delegates categorically rejected that plea. Worse still, by a margin of 54% to 46% they voted down a resolution to recognize that ‘climate change is real.’
Based on regional breakdowns provided by the party it is clear that considerable opposition to the motion originated with delegates from oil-producing provinces in western Canada, the party’s bedrock base of support. But opposition also came from so-cons who had been advised to vote against the motion because “global warming alarmism” is used to justify population control and abortions.
Unfortunately word of this stunning development did not stop at Canada’s borders. Within 24 hours news outlets around the world – from the Guardian and the BBC in Britain to Reuters International, Newsweek and aljazeera – were gleefully reporting on Canada’s latest Conservative debacle. It’s now official, Canada’s Conservatives are universally seen as dinosaurs.
Sadly, this bombshell came barely a week after bizarre pronouncements by former Harper minister Jason Kenney, now premier of Alberta and hence in charge of Canada’s oil patch. Not surprisingly, Kenney caught reporters’ attention when he attacked a children’s movie airing on Netflix about a mythical Bigfoot family and their troubles with oil men and lumberjacks, declaring it to be grossly misleading and libellous. More than one commentator suggested Kenney’s next target would be Sesame Street. Yet Kenney himself claimed victory. Apparently believing the old adage that there is no such thing as bad press, the premier insisted that his attacks were working if they were being so widely reported.
There was a time when international coverage of Canadian Conservatives was rare. But the peccadilloes of Doug Ford, the late Toronto mayor, changed all that, demonstrating to the world that they were not all bland boring Bill Davis moderates in blue suits and yellow ties, worried about balance sheets and trade statistics. Now the world has a much clearer idea of just how out-of-touch the current crop of Conservatives really is. Widely seen as dinosaurs and throwbacks to the Jurassic era, the next set of cartoons may also portray them as ostriches.