An intriguing phenomenon is beginning to occur in our nation’s politics. Some Canadians seemed to be pleased with the policies of Conservative parties and are willing to vote for them – in spite of some apprehension toward certain party leaders.
Here are two recent examples.
A Mainstreet Research poll released on Jan. 22 revealed that decided and leaning voters in Alberta favoured the United Conservative Party over the governing NDP by 52.3 to 27.8 per cent.
Yet UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s positive impression among potential voters was only at 39.7 per cent, which is slightly ahead of NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s approval rating of 36.9 per cent.
Another Mainstreet Research poll released on Jan. 29 showed that decided and leaning voters in Ontario favoured the Progressive Conservative government over the NDP by 41.4 to 27 per cent. Yet Ontario PC Premier Doug Ford trailed NDP Leader Andrea Horwath by 34.9 to 29.5 per cent in terms of voter approval – and he scored a 51 per cent unfavourable opinion less than seven months after taking office.
Putting aside the fact that both polls were conducted by the same company, this is a rather stunning juxtaposition. The Alberta UCP and Ontario PCs would both form majority governments today in spite of less-than-popular leaders at the helm.
Is this a sign that some Canadians don’t care for certain small “c” conservative political leaders, but like their small “c” conservative parties and ideas enough to vote for them?
Based on rudimentary evidence, the answer seems to be yes. But while Kenney and Ford have right-leaning beliefs when it comes to reducing taxes and the size of government, and are opposed to the federal carbon tax, they’re very different political leaders.
Kenney is a former president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He was a Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative MP from 1997 to 2015. He held ministerial roles like national defence and citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism. He was also the last leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.
He’s been able to promote conservative views and values effectively in ethnic and religious communities for decades, and has long been viewed as a true champion for fiscal and social conservatism.
Ford, a businessman who co-owns Deco Labels with his brother Randy, was a Toronto-based city councillor for one term (2010 to 2014). He was a Toronto mayoral candidate in 2014 but lost to John Tory. He planned to run again for mayor in 2018 before the wild series of events that brought down then-PC leader Patrick Brown last January hoisted him into this unexpected role in March, and got him elected as Ontario’s 26th premier in June.
He effectively mixes populist themes with conservative principles and has devised a broad-based political agenda that works (sorry, but you knew it was coming) for the people.
Nevertheless, these two leaders both have the ability to evoke negative sentiments in their provinces.
Kenney is often linked with former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and former Tory prime minister Stephen Harper, which turns off the political left and, in some cases, moderate Alberta conservatives.
Ford is often associated with the political circus that involved his late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, which turns off the political left and some moderate Ontario conservatives.
Kenney and Ford are, therefore, seen as rigid political partisans by a significant number of Albertans and Ontarians, respectively. They may not think, speak or act the same, but some people are more than willing to view them as two sides of the same political coin.
It’s not a fair-minded point of view, to be sure. Alas, it’s part of the modern reality that Conservative leaders and parties face in Canada.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.