Chairman's Desk

Sunny Ways For The Conservative Party

Today, the Conservative Party is led by a young leader who is working with a number of promising young MPs and a nearly absurd stockpile of cash.

The Conservative leadership election has come to a close, but it has opened a new chapter for a party that needed renewal.

Any party that has served in government faces challenges following an election defeat. Its brand has been buffeted by years of criticism from the opposition parties and from the media. Its players are tired and the recriminations come quickly.

Renewal can be a long and challenging process that takes several election cycles. The situations faced by the federal Liberal party in 2006 and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in 2003 show how what seems like a temporary exile can turn into a long stay in the wilderness.

The Conservative Party of Canada has much to celebrate after last weekend.

Through the long leadership campaign, it seemed the party wouldn’t have much to rejoice about at the end of it. Media commentators and pundits panned the field of contenders as has-beens or never-weres, and dwelled on the fact that major players had opted out of running for the leadership. They panned the policy proposals as uninteresting.

But, today, the Conservative Party finds itself well-positioned.

Its already prodigious fundraising has been increasing, even in the midst of a leadership campaign populated by 14 candidates raising money from the same pool of donors.

Those major players the media called out for staying out of the race have merely gone on to other things. Jason Kenney has moved to Alberta and united the conservative movement there, creating an immediate opportunity for the province to return to the conservative fold in the next election.

John Baird and Peter MacKay have returned to the working world, but have signalled their intention to strongly support the party moving forward.

And, more importantly, the candidates that were dismissed as the second tier have demonstrated that they are capable of carrying the mantle forward.

The conservative movement in Canada has a tendency to break at the seams from time to time. The split between the Progressive Conservatives and Reform Party in 1993, and the split in the parties on the right in Alberta are the most recent examples of the fragility of the movement.

Once, a result as close as 50.5 per cent to 49.5 per cent in a leadership contest would herald, at the very least, increased tensions and frustrations in the party. But party leaders and activists seem to understand the fundamental importance of maintaining a united and strong party to challenge the Liberals if they are to be successful.

The leadership contest brought to the fore fresh faces. A number of MPs who were less than prominent during the Harper era have emerged as important players.

Erin O’Toole, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and a host of other contenders may have lost the leadership election, but they have certainly boosted their profiles. Each can boast that they have shared their perspectives with party members, gained followers and boosted their media profile. They struggled to emerge from the shadows of the bigger Conservative players in Stephen Harper’s government, but they have demonstrated that they are ready and able to help steer the party.

Importantly, Andrew Scheer’s election as leader heralds the end of a sometimes cold Conservative Party. Scheer seems intent on reframing his party as one that is positively focused on growth for Canadians. Party members will welcome this tone.

Leadership contests often leave bruised egos and open wounds in their wakes. The aftermath produces periods of introspection and frustration.

None of that has been evident this week.

To the contrary, the new cadre of Conservative frontbenchers seems content with the results and pleased with the direction of the party. There has been none of the usual discontent and grumbling.

Many of the Conservative MPs are newly elected, since generational renewal was a goal of the Harper political machine as it approached the 2015 campaign.

That path was chosen with foresight. Today, the Conservative Party is led by a young leader who is working with a number of promising young MPs and a nearly absurd stockpile of cash.

Sunny ways, indeed!

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on June 4, 2017.

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