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Aaron Binder Headshot

Canada's Conservative Wasteland

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White boys rapping, Ready for Raitt, barbaric cultural practices and two Libertarians. All this and more as the Conservative Party of Canada begins electing their next leader. As we enter election season in North America with the American general election and the Conservative Party of Canada's leadership race, you wouldn't be remiss to forget the lacklustre CPC race playing out. The race has already been defined by its saccharine appeal sans Kevin O'Leary or Peter MacKay. Whatever interest there was has turned cringeworthy with the suggestion by MP Arnold Viersen that the leaders should hold a rap battle. Politicians rapping always resounds with the populace, right?

The Conservative party of Canada has been one of the two major parties in federal politics since Canada's over the last 15 years and has roots going back to the early 1800's. To discount them now would be an underestimation, especially after the Liberals David vs. Goliath win in 2015, but there is little about the current incarnation of the party that inspires and the current field of candidates even less when considering the whimper with which their current leadership campaign began.

CPC executive leadership may have seen the American election as a great time to piggyback on swelling political interest but with the media vacuum Donald Trump leading in many polls against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders' campaign all but done, even Canadians are having a hard time finding interest in Canada with such a spectacle down south. Canadian politics are normally flaccid but the Conservative race is in need of a Viagra pill or 5. In a field of candidates that range from decent but unknown to unfortunately known, the reflection of Stephen Harper's paranoid leadership style has reared its head and left no obvious heir to the Conservative throne. It's a telling day in Canadian politics when the self-proclaimed Donald Trump lite, Kevin O'Leary and former Harper scapegoat Peter MacKay are both trending higher and more positively than anyone already in the race without even being in it.

Unlike many of the candidates in the race, O'Leary commands a presence without even being present. Should he join it may be time for candidates to rethink their slogans and messaging ("Ready for Raitt", Working Hard, Helping Others, "New Leadership. For Canada") away from tired tropes that few would be naive enough to believe in. While O'Leary's business experience may appeal to a number of voters, his presence if he joins may not even be enough to compete with the circus of America. Choice is increasingly important in modern culture and the considerably more exciting and potentially impactful election south of the border will captivate regardless of what transpires in the north.

Harper led the CPC into a wasteland with almost paranoid levels of control, alienating even his closest advisors and ministers and leaving no direct heir or line of succession. On the positive side this does allow the opportunity for the conservatives to reorganize and remove some of the nastier aspects of Harper's reign. Whether or not they have the political will to do so is a looming question. Leadership campaigns are usually designed to either crown an heir apparent, like in the case of Justin Trudeau, or refresh and renew a party's platform like in the case of the original PC Party when Harper wrangled together two parties into his personal juggernaut.

So what can the CPC executive and candidates do? Make it relevant, make it interesting. As much as they may not want to admit, Justin Trudeau's Teflon personality is still intact, Rona Ambrose is considered a Harperite and the last Liberal Party of Canada leadership election, dirty as it may have been, is an example of renewing a party that had been in the doldrums for almost a decade. The CPC needs to find a sexy candidate that hasn't been glazed in Harper's sheen. At minimum the candidates need to understand the reason their party lost the 2015 election is that the CPC was out of touch with Canada and they have an opportunity to pivot toward listening (as the LPC made an effort to do with to its party members) and finding out how to connect again.

It's a race through the Conservative Wasteland and the worst enemy is the still fresh eclipse of Stephen Harper's final few years as authoritarian head of a party imploding around it's paranoid leanings. With Viersen's rap and the kind of funny sloganeering it seems within the realm of possibility that the race will break out into Monorail, Monorail, Monorail the next time they're all in the same room. Harper's exit took the muzzle off the party but it remains sadly shackled to its own hubris.