Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications to Stephen Harper, is a communications consultant based in London.
Last night’s Conservative leadership debate in Quebec City provided a service, but it wasn’t to the French language. It was in managing the supply of the field.
So bon voyage Lisa Raitt, Kellie Leitch, Deepak Obhrai and Brad Trost, whose 44 years of combined parliamentary service should have prepared them for the French fact. That it didn’t eliminates them from consideration.
And that’s a good thing. It’s important the Conservative field is winnowed soon.
Canada isn’t the United States, but a crowded Republican field was one of the factors that led to Donald Trump’s victory. The more candidates, the more the race becomes about stunts and personality, and less about substance. Witness Ms. Leitch’s disingenuous attack on Maxime Bernier on corporate welfare, as if she isn’t familiar with the yoke of cabinet’s collective responsibility.
The crowd of voices also makes for short debate interventions guided by talking points. It’s hard to argue for the dismantling of supply management in 50-second bursts.
Poor debate quality aside, last night’s participants at least showed up to take their lumps.
Which brings us to Kevin O’Leary, whose bravery was summed up by his campaign’s anonymous leak that he would declare for the leadership the day after the French language debate. Mr. O’Leary, you won’t be surprised to hear, has little to no facility in French. His candidacy should be dismissed out of hand.
Mastering French is about the language, and Quebec’s unique place in our federation, but it’s also a test of seriousness. That any candidate for the most important job in the country thinks he or she can show up without it tells you how little they care for the place they aspire to run. Or its history.
Our national battles over language and Quebec’s sovereignty might feel over, but having a prime minister who can muster his or her arguments in both official languages is a small and easy way to ensure they don’t restart.
Stephen Harper, a latecomer to the French language, understood this fact, which is why, despite winning a majority without significant support in Quebec, he continued to begin each engagement in French, to apparent effect. Quebec was the only place Conservatives gained seats in the Trudeau landslide. It was also where the party was able to draw “star” candidates such as Gérard Deltell, and Pascale Déry, the debate’s moderator.
The road back to power has to begin somewhere. If Justin Trudeau is to be unseated, it must come with the assistance of Quebec. There are too many seats for it to go unloved.
By this reasoning, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Chris Alexander, Andrew Scheer, Michael Chong, Erin O’Toole (barely), Rick Peterson, Andrew Saxton, and Pierre Lemieux are still alive in the race. Of these, the latter three aren’t likely to make an impact. They should drop out and endorse one of the remaining contenders.
This leaves an all-male and mostly white list, which isn’t a strong statement for the modern Conservative Party of Canada to be making in 2017. It has only itself to blame. That more female and minority talent wasn’t cultivated during the previous government is a blot on its legacy.
Of course, language isn’t the only factor for party members to consider. The next leader must also keep Stephen Harper’s conservative coalition together, while seeking to bring back the voters who left in 2015. They must also find ways to draw in the millions of new or returning voters Mr. Trudeau surfaced with his dynamic candidacy.
A vibrant policy debate, in both official languages, free of the demagogues, charlatans, and the unserious, is a good place to start.