EKOS pollster Frank Graves and commentator Michael Valpy see the emergence of two distinct blocks of voters in Canada.
According to Graves and Valpy, one block consists of “people rooted in a specific place or community, socially conservative, often less educated, mainly male, mainly but by no means exclusively older and white”. This is the right-wing, populist voting block.
The other block consists of “those who come from “anywhere” — footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated.”
Graves and Valpy see Canada’s political parties orienting themselves around these two blocks of voters with the Conservative Party attracting the vast majority of right wing, populist voters and the four other main parties (Liberals, Greens, NDP and Bloc) splitting the more socially liberal voting block.
In Graves and Valpy’s eyes, the polarization between these two distinct kinds of voters “have created two irreconcilable Americas, two irreconcilable Britains and two irreconcilable Canadas.”
Graves and Valpy point out that the numbers of Canadians being drawn into the right-wing populist camp are not noticeably increasing. While that may be the case, they also caution that:
“It’s not the populist numbers — about 34 per cent of the adult population, smaller than the 44 per cent in the U.S. — it’s the extreme polarization exhibited by those swept into the populist vortex: the depth of their feeling, their anger and their passion. Plus in the last few years they’ve become politicized, drawn almost entirely into one political party, the Conservatives.”
In a study reported by N. Y. Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall, academic researchers reported similar findings. The study, done by political scientists Michael Bang Petersen, Mathias Osmundsen and Kevin Arceneaux, focuses on a voting block that favours “chaos” in politics. According to the authors (as reported by Edsall):
“The responses to three statements related to a preference for chaos in politics were “staggering”: 24 percent agreed that society should be burned to the ground; 40 percent concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn”; and 40 percent also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”
Of course, it is unlikely that those who answer “just let them all burn” really want to see the everyday world that they inhabit along with their families, become more chaotic – much less “burn”.
However, the “preference for chaos” theory does provide some insights into the perspective of the right wing, populist voting block that is shaking up politics in formerly stable liberal democracies. Populist politicians convey a message that political elites in Washington, London and Ottawa are corrupt and “in it only for themselves”. It is likely that this rhetoric resonates well with those who want to see a clean sweep of existing systems – at least as long as the “clean sweep” doesn’t actually inconvenience them or interfere with their daily routines.
The two studies may analyse the values of the right-wing, populist voting block in slightly different ways, but there is no question that they are talking about the political values of the same voters. And in Canada, these voters comprise a significant proportion of the electorate and are overwhelmingly supporting Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party.
This has important implications if the Conservatives are able to form a government after the October 21 federal election.
Why the Conservative Party is different
The truth of the matter is that the Conservative Party of Canada and parties like Doug Ford’s Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, are not like the Liberals, NDP or Greens in a very fundamental way.
However, before elabourating on this statement, it needs to be made clear that that the Conservative Party is different not because it favours markets over government, would eliminate the federal carbon tax, or because it supports the traditional Chamber of Commerce, privatization and de-regulation agenda.
Whether one agrees with such policies or not, they constitute an entirely legitimate program for a right-of-centre party. The Conservative Party has always supported such policies and has historically done so without compromising its support for democratic norms. Nor has it historically promoted its “small government” agenda by embracing the notion that facts are the enemy of effective campaigning and governing.
So it is not the Conservative Party’s small government, tax cut policies that violate Canadian political traditions. Rather, what separates today’s Conservative Party from other Canadian mainstream parties (and past iterations of the party) is that they are both nurturing and responding to, a minority voting block that distrusts expertise and hard facts and is profoundly indifferent (and, perhaps, even hostile), to some of Canada’s core democratic institutions and norms.
Again, as described in the study cited above, the right wing, populist voting block supporting Scheer today has a “preference for chaos in politics”. While the “chaos” that attracts them may be of the reality TV variety (i.e. something they can turn on and off and separate from the everyday lives of their family and friends), it still suggests an attraction to extreme political negativity bordering on political nihilism (“burn it all down”).
If the Trump Republican Party in the U.S. and the Conservative Party in Britain (Boris Johnson’s anti-democratic, Brexit parliamentary initiatives, etc.) are any example, this will mean that if they are able to form a majority government after October 21, the right-wing populism of a Scheer government will become more and more extreme as they face re-election in 2023. This is because they know that their right-wing, populist base represents a minority of Canadian voters and that they will have to energise that base to be re-elected.
And remember, when we are talking about a majority Conservative government becoming more extreme as time goes on, we are talking about a Conservative government in full control of the machinery of the Canadian state – not just an opposition Conservative Party limited to rhetorically whipping up its base, as is presently the case.
Right-wing populism in action in Alberta.
For an example of the kind of extreme, fact-free rhetoric and policy that Canadians can expect from a Scheer government, take Alberta, where the United Conservative Party government of Premier Jason Kenney (a former Harper minister) is holding an official public inquiry into a conspiracy theory – and not to debunk it!
The “Public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns” will look into the allegation that foreign operatives have conspired to fund a public-relations operation in Canada with the intention of harming Alberta’s oil industry, while at the same time going easy on oil from the United States, Russia and OPEC countries.
“For over a decade, a well-funded foreign campaign has defamed Alberta’s energy industry and sought to land-lock our oil,” the government says. “The reputational harm to the province’s energy sector has limited provincial and industry revenue and cost thousands of jobs.”
This is crazy talk. But this rhetoric is not emanating from a fringe group or even a mainstream party in opposition. This nonsense is the justification for a public inquiry actually being conducted under the auspices of (and funded by), the Conservative government of Alberta!
Now, the “foreign operatives destroying the oil patch” rhetoric may be crazy talk but it is crazy talk that many of Premier Kenney’s Alberta supporters believe – and that is precisely what makes it so scary. Remember, Scheer’s Conservative Party has a 40% lead in Alberta which means that many of Scheer’s Alberta supporters also believe such talk.
Of course, it is likely that Premier Kenney and the key people around him don’t believe their foreign conspiracy rhetoric. But they do believe that this is what their supporters want to hear and that it is in their political interest to make such things up.
And they are more than happy to do so. After all, for right wing populist politicians and their strategists, making things up is just what successful politicians do.
Canadian conservatism before populism
The need for Canadian conservatives to embrace conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric in order to win elections has not always been the case. There was a time when Canadian elections were won by wooing moderate voters.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, (which was Canada’s centre-right federal political party until 2003, when the membership voted to dissolve the party and merge with the Canadian Alliance to form the current Conservative Party of Canada), generally moved towards the centre as election day approached. After all, the centre of the political spectrum used to be where the votes were and that was where the Progressive Conservatives had to go if they wanted to win.
But that was before the rise of right-wing populism. Today, conservative leaders such as Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, use extreme, divisive rhetoric to get elected. For example, in typical right wing, populist fashion, Ford last year branded urban voters as “people who look down on the common folk, the people who think they are smarter than other people.”
Again, it is by using this divisive rhetoric that conservative parties gain power these days. And because mobilizing their base now demands such extreme rhetoric, conservative parties can’t afford to abandon it – whether in power or out.
The irony is that while conservative parties created the right-wing, populist voting block described above, they are also prisoners of it. As Trump has made clear time after time, right-wing, populist leaders will do and say anything to energise their minority base.
Or to put it differently, because the rhetoric that gets them elected alienates more voters than it attracts, they have to keep making the rhetoric more inflammatory to increase the turn-out of their right wing base.
Competent governing means nothing to leaders like Trump, Johnson and Ford. Getting their people out to vote, however, means everything.
U. K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s obsession with crashing the U.K. out of the European Union on October 31 – whether he has deal in place with the EU or not – exemplifies this right-wing, populist mindset.
And the fact that Johnson is confident that a so-called “no-deal Brexit” will be popular with his base, is proof that the “preference for chaos” voting block discussed above is very real.
This election could be about the Liberal government record and It could be about good ideas like the NDP’s wealth tax.
But it is not.
This election is about whether or not Canada will follow in the path of an America led by Donald Trump, a Britain led by Boris Johnson, and an Ontario led by Doug Ford.
It is about whether or not our democratic institutions will remain strong or will be deliberately weakened, and whether facts and expertise are respected or denigrated.
It is about ensuring that the right-wing populism poisoning the politics of the U.S., Britain and many other liberal democracies, is relegated to the political margins in Canada or whether it captures the machinery of the federal government.
It is about making sure Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party does not form a government on October 21.
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This article is entirely left-wing drivel! A conservative, by definition, is someone that does not subscribe to every whim and fancy that the aristocracy of higher education and beaurocracy see as legitimate concerns of society and government. Conservatives do not want the government meddling in every facet of our daily lives.
You make a comment that Andrew Scheer is “both nurturing and responding to, a minority voting block that distrusts expertise and hard facts and is profoundly indifferent (and even hostile) to our democratic institutions and democratic rights.”. This coming from someone that obviously supports the identity politics of the current Liberal government, politics that , by definition, break people groups down into small, minorty groups in order to pander to them with token motions and policy changes which undermine the foundation upon which other groups attempt to stand as Canadian citizens in a society committed to the well being of our entire country. Identity politics adheres to “scientific” views that are anything but based upon hard facts, but if you say it loud enough and you repeat it often enough, people will believe you, apparently. Also, conservatives are the only ones that are trying to defend our “democratic institutions and democratic rights”, which have been repeatedly ignored and gutted by the actions of our corrupt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Look at SNC-Lavalin, the border crisis, blocking judicial committes from hearing witnesses, blocking the RCMP from talking to Cabinet Ministers, just to list a few of the recent issues. This author needs to pull his head out of his ass which is acting as his echo chamber and open his eyes to the reality of what this Liberal government has done to our beloved country.
Here! Here! I applaud your response. I am university educated and self employed. I see the Liberals destroying a beautiful country by pandering to
elitist groups. Long term, this country is going to be screwed based on the policies that this government is promoting.
Let comparing Canada to other countries regardless of their politics go. We are not them. We are influenced economically as to what they do but we have very different issues to behold. The Liberal government has cost our economy horrendous debt, lost revenues and instability going forward. If we had had our energy revenues flowing we could have paid for any environmental issues, infrastructures and many others. The way we stand as Canadians is a deplorable mess. The waist, give always and corruption can’t be ignored but it is. The people of Canada are dreadfully misinformed if they vote Liberal. That is simple common sense if you have followed at all what the Liberals have done is doing to this country. To not know this and follow the Liberals is a shout out to how poorly too many Canadians are not on track economically, lawfully and with with common sense.
Foolish drivel. Canadian will remain a liberal democratic country with lots of social programs regardless of who wins the election. I am hoping for a more fiscally responsibility , common sense team in Ottawa. The provinces needs help with commitments to health care , especially.
That’s a very good article and I completely agree with it. It also corresponds to my own experience in Ontario, where Mike Harris already stoked hate against the welfare recipients to rev things up and generate the votes needed to get elected. His cutbacks to social programs were furthermore based on a lie that the province “can’t afford to spend”, while having the cash for unnecessary extravagances like the Olympics and the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization. While this nonsense continued under the liberals with the Pan Am Games, etc. (I criticized them too for this), nobody including the conservative supporters, said or did anything to oppose this disgrace. It continues to this day with idiotic things like the horse racing industry Ford is supporting, while those on welfare, or in need of medical care, or high school students who’ve had their courses cut, or the homeless, continue to do without. All still based on a lie of a province being nearly broke, but still has money to have a wild fling. Meanwhile, during the last election in Ontario, two things happened simultaneously: Ford stopped debating with Wynne, and my conservative opponents stopped debating with me because, as a number told me, I couldn’t be argued with, which was the truth. I dug up Wynne’s factual economic record and posted it online, and no-one could disprove it. No-one even tried. It added up to one thing. The poorly educated (most conservatives) really don’t know how to make a good factual or logic-based argument. But rather than own up to it in an honest fashion, they act like sore losers and resort to hate rhetoric to shout down opposition and win that way. They don’t care who they hurt, who becomes homeless or dies in the hospital because of it. That is where the problem is, and Scheer and his crowd are going down the same path. There were problems under Harper too. While I’ve had my criticisms of Trudeau as well (and voted against him last time), nothing that he has done remotely compares to the problem coming at us under Scheer and his conservatives.