Politics·MINORITY REPORT

Conservatives are looking for a new leader and a new vision

I have been told by umpteen pundits over the past two months that the Conservative leadership race has to be about more than just the leader. They also tell me the next leader, whomever it may be, shouldn't be looked at as a saviour, that the race should be a discussion of ideas and a debate over the future direction of the party.

Newsletter: Conservatives want their new leader to do more than regurgitate past campaign ideas

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I have been told by umpteen pundits over the past two months that the Conservative leadership race has to be about more than just the leader. 

They also tell me the next leader, whomever it may be, shouldn't be looked at as a saviour, that the race should be a discussion of ideas and a debate over the future direction of the party.

It all sounds great; a leadership race about ideas not star power — Tories like to describe this to me as the anti-Justin Trudeau type of race — so far though, that has yet to really happen. 

The race, to this point, has been dominated more by questions of who might run and how their potential star power might impact the Conservatives' electoral fortunes.

Months of will he/she or won't he/she all ended up in, well, won'ts. All-told, Rona Ambrose, Jean Charest and John Baird gave it serious thought before saying no. Pierre Poilievre abruptly pulled out of the race a few days before he was to officially announce his candidacy. 

Former Conservative interim Leader Rona Ambrose joined former conservatives John Baird and Jean Charest in deciding not to enter the Conservative leadership race. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

We are days away from the true start of this race, so maybe that's a reason for the lack of policy from candidates. Maybe they're waiting until the deadline arrives to release their substantive ideas. 

But until that moment comes, let's take a look at what's been put forward so far. A lot of it has been reactive — to the blockades and the decision on whether to approve the Teck Frontier mine that's happening this week. 

On the former, Marilyn Gladu proposed sending in the army, Peter Mackay endorsed counter-protesters, then didn't. Erin O'Toole said if elected prime minister he'd pass a new law making it a "criminal offence to block a railway, airport, port, or major road, or to block the entrance to a business or household in a way that prevents people from lawfully entering or leaving."

In what policy initiatives have been released, there are many similarities among the so-called frontrunners: they'd all approve the Teck mine, none are in favour of a carbon tax, they'd attend pride parades with variations on the conditions and at least two would review or change the CBC's English services. 

Conservative leadership candidate Erin O'Toole will have to deliver a clear vision to his party if he wants to build excitment around his leadership race. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The details on how they'd grow the economy or what their climate plans will consist of, have not yet been fully revealed. When they are, they should add more definition to the race. 

I raise the issue of policy for a specific reason. When I talk to Conservatives about the last campaign, many of them are critical of Andrew Scheer's performance, especially when it came to contentious social issues. But they say a lot more than that: in fact, more Tories are upset over the party's failure to introduce new, enticing ideas in the Conservative Party platform. I think that's really significant. 

The decision to regurgitate past campaign ideas (think tax credits galore) was data driven. People who managed the campaign told me when they polled people in the burbs on what they really liked in the Harper years, those credits for their kids' soccer equipment and piano lessons scored high. So the decision was made to re-offer them. 

But more than anything else, at least among those I've spoken to, what angers members who ache for a grand vision for their party, who want it to do more than affect Canadians' lives in incremental bits and pieces, is the incremental stuff. When the race starts in earnest this week, my guess is a lot of Tories will be looking for more vision.


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This is just one part of the Minority Report newsletter. In this week's issue, Éric Grenier looks at what kind of conservative Canadians think should lead the Conservative Party and the Power Panel gives their take on the week ahead. You can read all of that by clicking here, or sign up for the newsletter here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox every Sunday.

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