Rivers on the Torys: The Compromise Party

By Ray Rivers

August 20th, 2021


Ray Rivers has done a background piece on two of the political parties; this is his third with a fourth to come.

Erin O’Toole isn’t just fighting Justin Trudeau and the other federal leaders. In many respects, he’s also battling many in his own party – which is never good at election time. (Gary Mason, Globe and Mail)

The Conservative party is almost twenty years old, but like any teenager it hasn’t figured out what it wants to be when it grows up. It was born out a desperate compromise between prairie libertarians and eastern red Tories. And the reds got the short end of the stick.

Disgraced in the minds of some; revered in the minds of thousands

It wasn’t the first marriage of convenience for the Tories and the birthing of a new political entity. Western progressives had joined with this party back in 1942. Conservatives have deep roots in the founding of Canada and had been led by the now mostly disgraced John A. Macdonald and their strength was in the east. The merger helped bridge a national east-west political divide thus creating a truly national political party to rival the Liberals.

Today, ironically the new Conservatives are more western but less progressive than they ever have been. Stephen Harper, the father of the new right wing Conservative party had a clear focus on his adopted province of Alberta and its oil, and paid precious little attention to the rest of the country. And his successor Andrew Scheer did his best to further divide the nation, mainly on energy matters.

Erin O’Toole – leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition

Erin O’Toole is an eastern boy, born in Montreal and raised in Ontario where he sits as an eastern Ontario member. From a western perspective he’s another one of them easterners, just not as bad as Trudeau. They will vote for him but only because he represents their tribe and they have no other preferred option. Even O’Toole’s catering to the right wing of the party with promises of restoring assault weapons, killing the CBC and allowing MPs to introduce anti choice legislation has not made him more acceptable.

And O’Toole’s turnaround on the carbon tax must have hurt. Only a matter of weeks after the court decision he proposed a kind of loyalty card, actually rewarding people for using hydrocarbons, instead of taxing them. It is an insult to anyone who seriously understands and cares about global warming. But it sure looks like a carbon tax, and the oil sector must be worried about what is coming next.

The Tories are the only political party which is still obsessed with how and what women do with their bodies, O’Toole’s personal pro-choice stand must confound his membership, especially the evangelicals. Yet, strangely, he is willing to let MP’s propose anti-choice legislation.

Mr. O’Toole has put on his skates when it comes to mandatory vaccines for key sectors (health, education workers) and activities (travel, dining). He has adopted the line of the country’s conservative premiers that individual rights trump collective health and safety. He would like everyone to get vaccinated but he’d settle for an occasional test if they aren’t. Is a swab up the nose less invasive than a jab in the arm?

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper

But it is perhaps on the economy where deficit fighting Conservatives, like father Harper, are shaking their heads. His campaign is promising to print more money than the other parties combined, though it’s hard to say since the platform has not been costed. Imagine a Tory promising to cancel the GST, pay half the salary of new workers with tax money, refund restaurant customers half the cost of their meals.

And O’Toole and Andrew Sheer were part of the minority government all party agreement to dump the billions of new spending on wage subsidies and other pandemic relief over the last two years. All the parties own the deficit and the new debt now. Still, it’s not the first time this party, which claims the title of ‘fiscal hawks’ is dishing out money to win the hearts of the electorate, just like those nasty ‘tax and spend’ left of centre parties.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

Brian Mulroney never once balanced his budget. And Harper ran the biggest pre-COVID deficit in history, constructing an artificial lake on the shore of Lake Ontario with some of the money. And there were the pre-election handouts by Mike Harris ($200) and Ralph Klein ($400) paralleling the $500 Trudeau doled out to seniors recently.

O’Toole would axe the federal child care program which has already got the support and signatures of 8 provincial and territorial partners. He’d replace it with another tax credit which is of little use to someone on minimum wages, for example. As usual, tax credits favour those who are better off, even if the credits are graduated as he proposes.

It is a telling moment that the new premier designate of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston, a self confessed red Tory had not joined the federal Conservatives, and had shunned any linkages to the party’s federal leader or help from the party. His was an upset victory, overturning the incumbent Liberals in that province and providing evidence that we can have safe voting during a pandemic election, and that not all incumbents get returned,

And that pretty much sums up Erin O’Toole, a compromise candidate representing a compromised and conflicted political party. There is nothing wrong with compromise per se. And all of the parties have had some share of challenges managing themselves. Just look at the Green Party today.

So the question voters need to ask is whether this Conservative party can best deal with our national priorities. In order to get back towards some kind of pre-COVID normal, we know that anyone who can, should be vaccinated or isolated until this is over. O’Toole’s trade off between individual rights and collective public health will just prolong the epidemic, rather than shorten it.

On the biggest existential threat facing humanity, global warming, what he is proposing is too little and too late. For example his carbon tax would max out at $50, well before what the other parties are promoting. Canadians cannot solve the global climate crisis by ourselves, but as a member of the wealthiest club of nations, we have to show leadership and do our part.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – fighting for a majority government – is it within his grasp?

And finally on the economic plan, O’Toole has some very interesting public funding ideas which would benefit some who have been disadvantaged by the COVID crisis. It is hard to judge these in a vacuum to ensure we are not just constructing another artificial lake.

For probably the first time ever, the public has greater confidence in the Liberals ability to manage the economy and recovery than the Tories, according to a recent poll. Perhaps it has to do with the troubled times we’re in. And maybe it’s because Mr. Trudeau, better than Mr. O’Toole, has got his act together, has more experience, or has his Liberal team working with ,rather than against him.

Ray Rivers, a Gazette Contributing Editor,  writes regularly applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers



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3 comments to Rivers on the Torys: The Compromise Party

  • Phillip Wooster

    Ray, I understand that you are a Liberal but I was very disappointed that you chose misleading and incomplete information in presenting your view of Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party in this election. First, you characterize the Conservatives as so focused on Alberta and its oil that it excluded the rest of Canada and was divisive; but you imply that the Trudeau Liberals don’t engage in divisive politics, which as most Canadians know, is false–Trudeau’s anti-Alberta and anti-West agenda is well documented and the recent episode of failing to give Alberta the same deal as he gave Quebec on childcare is merely the latest example.

    Then you accuse O’Toole of catering to the right wing of the party by promising to restore assault weapons. Nice spin but false. As you must be aware, assault weapons were prohibited in Canada in 1977. O’Toole has promised those scary “assault-style” weapons to LEGAL GUN OWNERS. This misleading ban by the Trudeau Liberals has done nothing to curb gun crime in Canada–gun crime carried out by gangs using illegal handguns for whom Trudeau has promised to reduce sentences for gun crime! O’Toole will focus on the criminals, not legal gun owners, by taking stronger action against illegal handguns and toughening sentences and bail conditions.

    O’Toole has been quite unequivocal–women have a right to choose as they should have. Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1987 in the Morgentaler decision by the SCC; since that time (that’s 33 years!), not a single government, including a few Conservative ones, has tried to reopen the abortion debate. O’Toole, not the dictator that Trudeau has become, would allow members of his party to propose private members’ bills but has been quite definitive in stating that they would not be supported by the government and unless the Liberals support such bills, would quickly die.

    Again, you criticize Harper for running the largest pre-Covid deficit, failing to mention that it was extorted by the Liberal and NDP parties. However, despite experiencing the second most severe depression in the 2008-9 financial crisis, Harper returned the nation’s budget to balance by 2015. Since then, of course, we have seen Trudeau fail to balance the budget and in fact, incur as much debt as all the other PMs in Canada’s history. Meanwhile, the PBO is projecting deficits 50 years out!

    However, you’re not finished. You indicate accurately that the Conservatives would scrap the Liberal daycare plan but forgot to analyze a few of the details. The Conservative Tax Credit, paid 4 times a year, is a refundable tax credit–it will start IMMEDIATELY, not 3-5 years down the road (maybe). Also, while the Liberal plan will apply to government daycare, the Conservative plan would give parents a choice of what daycare they want to use.

    And then you proceed to criticize the Conservatives’ policies with respect to the environment as contrasted with the Liberals. The Liberals of course made fighting climate change the centre piece of their 2015 campaign but between 2015 and 2019, carbon emissions rose from 723mt to 730mt (the last year for which the Liberals released data)–missing their target by over 100mt!!!! And then recently, the Liberals approved dumping raw sewage into the St. Lawrence.

    And finally, and with good reason, glossed over and barely mentionned the Conservative economic plan. Not impressed Ray, this wasn’t a background piece, it was a political hatchet job.

    • Thank you for the Phillip Wooster’s of Burlington. While we know Rivers is wrong in much of what he says in such reviews we don’t have the background Phillip Wooster has to call him on it which if those who are going to the polls are to be properly informed that is what we have to have. Kudos to the Gazette for its comments column that allows political hatchet jobs to be exposed.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Dream-on Ray. Here is why Trudeau and his ilk must go.