They were here just a minute ago. Had just about half the seats in the House of Commons. Forty percent of the vote, give or take. Seats in every province but one. Fundraising behemoth.
They were led by a guy who wasn’t particularly warm and cuddly. But he was a guy with a size 12 brain and he’d humiliated a string of Liberal leaders – the one who was supposed to be a juggernaut, the intellectual who carried around the book bag, the one who popped up from Harvard to run things. The Conservatives massacred all of them.
At the time – and for a long time – the pundits would opine that the Conservative Party was unbeatable and that Liberal liberalism was toast. They’d destroyed the once-great Liberal Party for good. It was in all the papers. Peter C. Newman wrote a book about it, subtly titled When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada. A couple other pretty smart guys wrote a book about the big shift that had supposedly taken place, declaring that “the dusty liberal elite” had been “replaced by a new, powerful coalition.” A conservative one.
Remember all that stuff? Everyone agreed with it. The Conservatives were heroes, Liberals were zeroes. The left should all just get together and form one party – and, in 2009, they even tried. The Conservative Party of Canada was unbeatable, went the consensus, and everyone just needed to get used to it.
This is the part in the column where we get to declare “that was then, this is now.” Or, “times change.” Or, “boy, those supposedly-smart people in Ottawa sure aren’t very smart.”
The Conservative faithful will say we should cancel the search party. They’re going to say that they’ve had a setback, true, but that Canadian conservatism – or its oxymoronic twin, progressive conservatism – ain’t dead. We still raise tons of dough, they’ll say, and we have just about 100 seats in the House of Commons and we are holding the Shiny Pony guy (Justin Trudeau) to account. Don’t write our obituary yet, they’ll say.
And they’re right, sort of. On paper, the Conservative Party seems to be doing … okay. They have MPs, they have money, they frequently get journalists to point microphones in their direction.
The Conservative Party seems to be a shadow of its former self. The Liberal Party isn’t “dead” – last we checked, it was running things again. There’s been no big shift either: the so-called Laurentian Elites are back, vacationing with the Aga Khan and blathering on about books, science, “evidence-based policy” and stuff.
Conservatives, meanwhile, are back to being mean and miserly. They’re nasty, brutish and short-sighted – again.
Back when Big Brain, Stephen Harper, ran things, knuckle-draggers and crypto-racists were summarily tossed overboard. Conservatives, not Liberals, were the party of the “new Canada,” and they enjoyed the support of plenty of folks with black, brown and yellow skin hues. Not for them the anti-abortionists and homophobes: those kooks were drummed out or ruthlessly silenced. And money? The Conservatives put the proverbial drunken sailors to shame, spending untold billions during the last great global recession.
Now? They’re having a leadership race to replace Harper. The candidate who has attracted the most attention, Kellie Leitch – who may very well win – has built a campaign entirely on fecklessly aping Donald Trump and bashing refugees and immigrants wherever, and whenever, possible. In a country of refugees and immigrants.
A couple of other leadership aspirants have started grousing about abortion. One has run ads saying marriage can only happen between a man and woman, common sense and Supreme Court rulings notwithstanding. “Politicians should have the courage to debate these issues in an open and respectful way,” said one of these leadership contestants, apparently unaware that denying citizens fundamental human rights is neither “courageous” nor “respectful.”
And so, yes, the Conservative Party has lots of money, still. It has bums filling seats in the House of Commons. It has a pulse. It is alive.
But its brain? Its heart? The things it did for a decade to ensure that all Canadians were treated fairly and equitably? The efforts it made to make itself into a modern, diverse, tolerant political party?
That party is dead or, if not dead, it has gone missing, maybe for good.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.