Conservatism’s tug-of-war has one side pulling 2023

Two former Conservative Party leaders declared new campaigns last week.

Rick Peterson, who placed 12th in the 2017 Conservative leadership contest, stated that the Centre Ice Canadians, a group he founded last year, will become a “centrist” political party. Maxime Bernier, who came second in 2017, indicated he will compete in a Portage-Lisgar byelection for his People’s Party.

This might imply Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre will soon face right-wing and center-right challengers. Bernier’s reactionary forces look stronger than Peterson’s project.

This tug-of-war is one-sided.

Bernier said the Conservatives won’t pursue “cultural battles.” Stephen Harper’s previous foreign minister was a libertarian who promised to end supply management. His hobbies have changed.

He arrived in Manitoba on Thursday to battle the “woke cult” that is “demolishing the traditional pillars of our society and aims to establish a twisted and profoundly sick vision of the future.” “Cultural marxists,” “transgenderism,” “drag queen story hour in our schools and libraries,” “moral and cultural degeneracy,” “mass immigration,” “climate hysteria,” and the “cult of diversity” were his complaints to supporters.

Poilievre may contrast Bernier’s divisive fanaticism with his moderate conservatism. While Poilievre pursues the anti-woke vote, that may be tough.

Anti-woke primary

Poilievre attacked a Quebec elementary school’s decision to celebrate all parents instead of Mother’s Day a day before Bernier’s campaign announcement, reportedly to accommodate students without parents or in foster care.

“The woke wants to delete Mother’s Day,” Poilievre tweeted. “This ugly and weird ideology—which [Justin] Trudeau endorsed at his party convention—wants to delete everything except the state which would control everything and everyone.”

Even without Bernier and the People’s Party, Poilievre may tweet about the evil forces trying to steal mothers’ day. Bernier’s entrance in Portage-Lisgar seems to concern the Conservatives.

“Maxime Bernier is always opportunistic. “He will go anywhere, say anything, and take any position just to bask in a spotlight,” Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer tweeted the day Bernier announced his candidacy. “I know from experience: he is always more focused on his own self-promotion than any of the issues he claims to care about.”

Scheer traveled to Manitoba to argue against Bernier in person.

Bernier’s Manitoba byelection triumph seems unlikely. In 2021, the Conservatives won Portage-Lisgar by almost 30 points despite the PPC candidate finishing second.

Bernier can succeed without winning. He only needs to prove he can still win over Conservative voters.

Centrists join late.

Bernier, unlike the Centre Ice Conservatives, is on the ballot.

The group’s first conference last summer gathered a former premier, provincial cabinet minister, and Conservative MP a month before Poilievre became Conservative leader. At the time, a moderate conservative party like the Progressive Conservative party of 1942–2003 looked possible.

Peterson denied launching a new party. “Nobody” wants to establish up 338 riding associations nationwide, he claimed, equating it to getting 338 root canals.

After a year, a few hundred root canals seem appealing. Centre Ice’s wider appeal is questionable.

Before being ousted as Conservative leader in 2022, Erin O’Toole warned his caucus to choose between “angry, negative and extreme” and “inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope.” Over the past year, Conservative dissatisfied with the party’s direction have kept silent.

Poilievre may prioritize his far-right side until moderate conservatives become a constituency.

The People’s Party’s significance on the 2021 election can be overstated. The PPC received approximately 5% of the vote but didn’t change the national outcome. However, some PPC voters were former Conservatives, and vote-splitting may have cost the Conservatives three to seven seats.

The PPC is now part of a three-pronged strategy to help Conservatives gain the most seats in the next election. If Poilievre can preserve the Conservative vote from 2021, win (or win back) some PPC votes, and the Liberal vote falls any lower, he might win an election.

Since becoming Conservative leader last October, Poilievre hasn’t shifted to the center. Thus, Portage-Lisgar may indicate whether Poilievre is gaining PPC support.

Poilievre may prioritize Maxime Bernier and the PPC vote until moderate conservatives confront him.

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