Not Your Ordinary Denial

Of course they believe in climate change – most of them anyway. They aren’t stupid. But they are upset. They decided to make a point.

Last weekend, delegates to the Conservative Party of Canada policy convention defeated a motion that acknowledged climate change as real. It was embarrassing for leader Erin O’Toole, who has been pushing the party to improve its image and broaden its appeal.

You would think such a motion would have been a no-brainer, You can debate the cause, the long term effects, and whether the current trends will reverse themselves, but there is no doubt our climate isn’t what it was 50 years ago.

You could even debate whether the changes are good or bad, natural or un-natural, but the science is pretty clear – there have been changes. Party members know that.

So why would a group of politically active people who want to win an election choose to look rather foolish on a major policy issue? Why would they allow themselves to be painted as completely out of touch with reality? Was it more than climate change skepticism?

They wanted to send a message to party leadership, and the climate change motion was the best option. Embarrassing the leader was the point.

Erin O’Toole will set party policy going into the next election, and he is adamant that the official word is that climate change is real, and Conservatives must come up with a plan to address it, a better plan than has been on offer so far. The defeat of the motion is meaningless.

It does show though that party members are deeply concerned with the top-down approach to policy in recent years. This was their only chance to send a message – though it is doubtful the leadership heard it.

There is a widespread belief (and with i think a certain amount of evidence) that policies debated at this convention were hand-picked by the leadership, with the intent to avoid anything controversial. Which explains why there were no motions on pro-life issues, not even something like selective sex abortion. (Feminist pro-choicers struggle with that one. They support unrestricted abortion, but in some communities it is females who are aborted, which offends their feminist sensibilities.)

Canada’s Conservative Party has been an at times uneasy marriage of those who would describe themselves as fiscally conservative with those who are socially conservative. The social conservatives have rarely been a majority, which means their policy initiatives have been aired but not implemented. But in 2021 those policies weren’t even up for discussion. Many social conservatives are feeling that their presence is not wanted and that perhaps there is no longer a place for them in the party.

The argument by some is that Canada is not basically conservative, and that any emphasis on socially conservative issues will prevent the party from attracting the moderate voters it needs to form government. I’m not convinced that is true – I think it more a matter of messaging. But we’ll probably never know because everyone knows social conservative values can’t win, therefore you don’t base a campaign on them.

Economic development and national defence were on the agenda, important topics to be sure, abortion was not. Canada is one of the few countries in the world with no abortion law. And yes, that means it is legal to kill a “fetus” until it is breathing independently of its mother, even as it is about to be born.

My guess therefore is that a considerable chunk of the membership seized on the climate change motion to send a message to leadership that they are upset with the apparent drift of the party. If they can’t at least talk about the things that matter to them, they will vote against a motion the party leadership wants passed, even if it makes them look foolish.

Everyone expects a federal election this year. The Prime Minister has suggested it will be June. Given that the Conservatives are the only credible alternative to his government, he must be thrilled at the way things are going.

The Liberals are referred to by Canadian political scientists as the NGP – Natural Governing Party. They win more often than not. That is perhaps due to the appeal of their leader or policies – but perhaps as much due to the traditional infighting in the Conservative Party.

With this vote on environmental policy (which included more than just the line about climate change being real), it looks like the Conservatives are fractured and preparing to lose once again.

Do you think they can get their act together in two months time and win a Spring election? I’m sure Justin Trudeau doesn’t think so.

During the election campaign you can expect to hear him say at least ten times a day that Conservatives don’t believe climate change is real. He knows that isn’t the truth – but if it is good politics you can expect to see him go for it.

Wouldn’t you if you were in his position?


One comment

  1. Stephen Martin · · Reply

    Seems to me that a party not willing to address climate change is not serious about forming a government. The environment is, or is easily made to be, a big issue that requires some sort of clarity from a policy point of view. “Denying” climate change won’t lead to any meaningful policy debate during an election…so it’s a choice to not be a real alternative.

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