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As Sunday political statements go, it was a pretty interesting one, with federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole very clearly trying to distance his party from the far right.
“The Conservatives are a moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party — as old as Confederation — that sits squarely in the centre of Canadian politics. My singular focus is to get Canada’s economy back on track as quickly as possible to create jobs and secure a strong future for all Canadians. There is no place for the far right in our party,” O’Toole’s statement said, listing a series of centrist positions O’Toole has already taken, including open support for unionization and being pro-choice.
“If the Liberals want to label me as ‘far right,’ they are welcome to try,” O’Toole’s statement continued. “Canadians are smart and they will see this as an attempt to mislead people and import some of the fear and division we have witnessed in the United States.”
"There is no place for the far right in our party.” — Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O'Toole
It’s fair to say that, after Donald Trump’s victory in the United States, there were those in the Conservative party who flirted with Trump’s messaging, perhaps hoping that his popularity at the time would rub off on Tories here. It’s also fair to say that, since the U.S. federal election and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the federal Liberals have done their level best to dredge up any image or statement they can find — from Conservative politicians wearing “Make America Great Again” hats to Twitter comments — to try and tie Canadian Conservatives to the conservative train wreck south of us.
In any event, O’Toole’s statement marks something of a sea change in the Conservative party’s policies, which, until now, didn’t overtly trend to the far right, but were willing to use loaded messaging to hint at a receptiveness to a further-right direction. (In high school terms, they weren’t officially dating, but you would sometimes see them coming out from behind the bleachers together.)
However, the U.S. experience appears to have put an end to that.
Both the Hill Times and Politico had news stories on Monday quoting Tory insiders saying the party should go even further to clearly excise American Republican-style politics from the party and its platform — even pointing to specific candidates and policies.
Now, hard-right voters are hardly going to leave the Tories and vote for the Liberals or the NDP, though they might toss away votes on Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada.
The real question, though, is the practical issue of what sort of reach the harder-right elements of the Conservative Party of Canada have inside party walls. Members of Parliament like Pierre Poilievre and Derek Sloan, for example, have shown they favour a harder line.
O’Toole has bluntly talked the talk. The difficult part — walking — comes next.