Jean Charest’s Grand Delusion

After a seven month campaign marred with controversy — including accusations of internal corruption and party infighting — the Conservative Party of Canada has elected Pierre Poilievre as its next leader. 

Widely regarded as the favourite to take over from interim leader Candice Bergen, Poilievre received 68.15% of the vote on the first round, unsurprisingly trouncing his closest rival, Jean Charest, who received a paltry 16.06%. 

The Conservative leadership race utilized a ranked ballot system that divided the country into 338 electoral districts, each of which was assigned a number of points (usually 100, unless a riding had fewer than 100 members) for a total of 33,737. 

Poilievre garnered a total of 22,993 points, far surpassing the 50% vote threshold (16,869 points) needed to eliminate subsequent voting rounds and be declared the next Conservative leader.

Prior to the results, Charest and his campaign maintained that they had a path to victory — though anyone familiar with contemporary conservative politics knew such words were highly unlikely and probably knowingly dishonest. 

And if Charest, frequently dubbed a “Liberal” in disguise by Pierre and his supporters — despite his long track record of Conservative activism — actually believed he had a path to victory, it would amount to further proof that he had become out of touch with the party’s grassroots. 

Not only did he grossly underestimate how pervasive misinformation in the Conservative Party had become, but he overestimated his own relevance in a party that has increasingly drifted to the anti-intellectual and populist right. That’s to say that from the beginning, Charest’s bid for leader of the Conservatives was destined to fail. 

He’s simply too moderate, too pragmatic, and too decent for the vast majority of Conservative members nowadays, which see “crushing the Liberals” as the ultimate goal. He represents a different era of Conservative. So too, goes for Scott Atichison, who arguably ran the most sensible campaign out of everyone and yet only received a pathetic 1.06% of the vote.

Rather than seeking concrete solutions to the major issues of today — like inflation, the cost of living, lagging vaccination rates, and climate change — the Conservative Party’s membership demonstrated a clear preference for empty slogans based on the loose concepts of “freedom” and “gatekeepers.” This is despite the fact that Canada is consistently scored as one of the freest countries in the world.

Instead of confronting the illegality of the recent “trucker convoy” occupation in Ottawa — which saw tens of millions drained from nearby small businesses due to closures, local residents harassed, and honorary war memorials defecated on — the Conservative membership made clear these transgressions are acceptable. What ever happened to the party of patriots, law and order, and individual responsibility? 

Seemingly, it’s been replaced by a party that places a greater emphasis on inflaming culture wars, dismissing academia, despising Justin Trudeau, cozying up to the far-right, and embracing conspiracy theories, including those targeting vaccines, the World Economic Forum, the World Health Organization, Canada’s Central Bank, climate change, and more.

And the only two leadership candidates that attempted to quell the worrying rise of misinformation stemming from the Federal Conservatives — Charest and Atichison — were extremely unsuccessful in building momentum. 

This highlights how Progressive Conservatives — Red Tories as they’re sometimes referred — have become marginalized within their own party and now represent a relatively niche group. After all, they’re typically more forward-thinking, bi-partisan, and solution-oriented, whereas today’s big-C Conservatives seem to lack a coherent ideology and fail to even address many of the realities facing Canada. 

Rather, they seem content on muddying the truth, chipping away at Canada’s institutional integrity, and importing the polarization and misinformation that plagues the American political system.

Hardly to the fault of Charest, the Conservative Party has missed a golden opportunity to elect a big-tent leader capable of offering Canadians a forward-looking alternative to the country’s governing Liberal Party, and now must contend with a much larger electorate that’s likely to be skeptical of its choice in Poilievre. 

Pierre is by no means a write off — and in fact may prove challenging to beat for an increasingly worn Liberal government — but his work will no doubt be cut out for him as he seeks to make inroads with moderate Canadians ahead of the next federal election.

Published by Brett Porter

Comms. guy with a passion for public policy and responsible corporate governance. Conservation advocate. Plant person.

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