After a couple of weeks of apparent confusion by those who thought they could run for leadership – notably the “liberal” Jean Charest and new father Pierre Pollievre – those forging ahead are being out-manoeuvered for media attention by Stephen Harper’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, Richard Decarie.
In less than 10 minutes, Decarie had become the talk of the race simply for being contrarian. “High profile” conservatives both in and outside of the leadership race took to social media to condemn the antiquated commentary from the leadership hopeful who asserted that “being gay is a choice”.
Personally, I think he managed to get it half right – being openly gay is a choice and one that the low profile but obviously well-connected conservative is apparently rather uncomfortable with.
He also claimed that certain surgical procedures are not “health care” which is not unexpected.
Decarie’s experience also states he is a “strategic communications consultant” which begs the question: What strategic communication plan is he executing for the party of which he has such close ties to the founder, Stephen Harper?
Harper, only weeks ago, reportedly stepped down from the Conservative Fund (finance) board of the CPC to “block” the potential leadership bid of Mr. Charest. Others say Mr. Harper also wanted to distance himself from the bonus pay scandal of the most recent former leader, Andrew Scheer.
The statements made by Mr. Decarie have thus far served two very important purposes; they allowed prominent CPC Members of Parliament to denounce the sentiment of a Conservative insider turned leadership candidate and; they remind those who agree with his statements that their views are still welcome and represented within the “big tent”.
If socially conservative views are not what the majority of Canadians accept, why is the CPC willing to alienate the majority with a candidate like Decarie?
First; the majority of Canadians are not engaged in the CPC leadership race. By the time the next election is upon us, neither his name nor his commentary is likely to grace any headlines.
Second: it’s not about the majority. The views expressed by Decarie are held by a small, but powerful, subsection of the Canadian population. They are powerful because they are passionate; they donate, organize, lobby, and volunteer. These supporters are literally helping to elect people at the local level because they show up, give money, and time – three things candidates (and parties) need to be successful.
Third: it’s about unity. The Progressive Conservative Party is dead and buried. Harper wanted to create a unified party based on conservative values and felt anyone who held moderate views didn’t belong in a conservative party. Centrism, he said in an interview with Ben Shapiro in 2018, wasn’t conservatism – if a person held liberal views – on anything, apparently – they should join a liberal party.
Ideological purity is noble, in theory, but it doesn’t win elections.
The problem for conservative parties is that many Canadians are either liberal or libertarian when it comes to others’ sexuality and personal choice. The majority also don’t donate, volunteer or become engaged in politics – unfortunately.
Appealing to the majority is helpful on election day but for the remaining 1,460 days between elections, parties need money, opportunities for media, and passionate, engaged individuals who will – ideally – work for free.
The Canadian Reform Alliance Party roots of the CPC are those people; the door-knockers, envelope lickers, fundraisers, the ‘boots on the ground’ and the reliable income to keep the party in contention for another stab at running the country.
Decarie is the beacon to each one of them.
The majority will ignore Decarie because he is unpalatable and he won’t win the leadership; but he isn’t supposed to win. He’s in the race to remind the social conservatives that he is a member and a supporter of the party, no matter who the leader will be.
Decarie is in the race to give hope to social conservatives that their values will inform policy decisions if the party forms government again.
All the while, the Peter MacKays and Michelle Rempel-Garners are loudly declaring that no – it will be their voices and values that will inform policy-making instead. A reminder that all party members would like you to donate $5 to help them beat Trudeau.
This post is an opinion.
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Deirdre is a writer and political observer in southern Alberta.