The Conservative Brand

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If the polls are remotely correct, on November 30th there will be no governments in Canada with the word Conservative in their name. The likely defeat of the Progressive Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador will mark the first time in Canadian history that this has been true. The Conservative name and brand (if not conservatives themselves) is at a low point in history.

Conservative governments still exist, of course. The Saskatchewan Party and Yukon Party rule in their respective jurisdictions and both are re-incarnations of the old PC party. They changed their name in the wake of scandals that made the previous brand toxic. And most people believe that the British Columbia Liberals are merely conservatives in more stylish clothing. There is a separate Conservative party in the province but it is largely irrelevant.

The Conservative brand has had difficulties for a number of years and it is not clear what they can do to recover it, though certainly the matter is weighing heavily on the minds of the current heirs to the movement. Things are not completely bleak – though they aren’t good either. Conservatives form the official opposition (or will form it after November 30th) in all 4 Atlantic Provinces, Ontario and Manitoba. And as mentioned, a variation of it is in power in three provinces.

So where do they go from here? In Ontario, the Conservatives have lost elections with three different leaders, the last more right wing than the previous two. Their solution was to elect a leader even more to the right. He has made a bit of a splash in the legislature – though Mr. Brown does not get more attention than his NDP counterpart and it is not clear that his views will make a lot of headway in the urban parts of the province.

In Manitoba, a tired old NDP government struggles to make a comeback before having to call an election next year and the Conservatives are their likely successor there. But after being out of power for more than a dozen years, they may struggle themselves. And the recent hammering of Conservatives in Winnipeg has raised new hopes for the Liberal party – long nothing but a fringe in that province. While, the conservative Saskatchewan party looks secure in that province (and some have suggested their leader might take a run at the national Conservative leadership – he won’t) the equivalent Yukon party is likely in trouble in Canada’s northwest.

Can the Conservatives make a comeback? I suspect they can – though whether they form government anytime soon at the Federal level depends on two things. The first is out of their control – that is, the performance of the newly elected Trudeau government. The second is up to them – their choice of a new leader and new direction post-Harper. If they move to the right, which may be their inclination, they may become like the Tea Party in the USA, loud, disruptive but always just a few steps from real power.

Or they can move to the centre and become the slightly right-wing mirror image of the Liberals. But of course, modifications to the electoral system may change those choices in a dramatic way.

But that’s ten minutes.

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