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Sunday, February 05 2023 @ 01:58 MST

Can Canadian Conservatives survive their own leaders?

Canadian PoliticsDuring the "freedom" convoy, Canadian conservative leaders such as Pierre Polievre were falling over themselves to not just show support for the protesters, but be seen with them in the press and social media. Now at the time Polievre was busy running for the leadership of the federal Conservative party and showing that boosted his anti-Trudeau street cred.

We saw the same play out in Alberta with Danielle Smith. Now based on her radio show, Smith was pretty much already in the protester's camp before running to replace Jason Kenney so it was easy for her to use those people to basically hijack the UCP from whatever moderate conservatives were left after Kenney's reign.
Now to say that much of what I saw coming out of the "freedom" convoy had a tenuous connection to reality is probably generous. Fortunately for the people of Canada (and to some extent the CPC) Polievre isn't in power and can't really act on the distorted view of reality that the "freedom" convoy seems to live in. This means that we can only hear his support for the convoy and not have to deal with the fallout. The reality for Polievre is that once he won the leadership and as reality started hitting him over the head about things like his support of crypto-currency, which then promptly crashed. Polievre has basically spent the time since his election to the leadership of the CPC to attributing the fall of every sparrow to Trudeau. Having, apparently discovering that this isn't bringing in the votes in truckloads, and having figured out that the vast majority of Canadians weren't sympathetic to the "freedom" convoy, he has now began do distance himself from them. This may work as they next federal election is still a couple of years away and people's memories can be short about such things; though countless images and videos of him handing doughnuts to the protesters and walking with them will likely haunt him come election time. In essence if Polievre can come up with some policy that is more than "I'm not Trudeau" and isn't based on the conspiracy laden "freedom" convoy reality, he may stand a chance.

Things are much different for Alberta and Danielle Smith and the UCP. Upon her election by the UCP membership, Smith became premier of Alberta with a parliamentary majority. This basically has allowed her to blunder through with her conspiracy ladened ideas as government policy. Reality has come down hard on Smith, causing her to "explain" statements in a hope to not alienate her "freedom" convoy base, but not scare off moderate conservatives in droves. She has not been that successful at this as polling shows that at best the UCP is competitive with the NDP, at worst, several points behind them, especially in Calgary where both parties need to win if they want to be government. It would also seem that unlike Polievre, who it would appear to be slowly discovering the reality the rest of us live in, Smith shows no sign of this. She seems to be stumbling from bad decision based on some conservative conspiracy theory to bad decision based on another conservative conspiracy theory. Adding to all this are policies like the sovereignty act that are red meat for the base, but aren't particularly popular outside of that base. A base that for the most part doesn't include moderate conservatives. Further adding to the issue is that unlike Polievre, the damage that Smith is inflicting on Alberta isn't hypothetical. The political instability will make it difficult for Alberta companies to get investment, even in the oil and gas sector. Even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has been at best lukewarm to Smith's policies. Given CAPP's pathological hatred of non-Conservative parties, this is quite the feat on the part of Smith. It also shows the trouble she finds herself in. Smith is working hard to earn the votes she already has at the expense of the votes she doesn't.

So the question is will reality crashing into Smith's world be enough to 1) change her behaviour, and more importantly for the UCP 2) change it in time to win back the much needed support of moderate conservatives. Failure to do 2 will cause the moderates to either stay home on election day, a common tactic for conservatives who don't like what they're party is doing; or worse from the point of view of the UCP is that they may even vote for opposition parties, including the NDP. Smith's current path suggests that even #1 is not likely to be happening any time soon, and the election is scheduled only a few months from now. This will not bode well for the UCP.
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