Conservatives search for the rebound

What are the chances of a Conservative victory in the next federal election constitutionally due by 2020?

Can a post-Harper rebound of the Conservative movement manage to cloud out the sunny ways in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal galaxy in the coming four years?

Last weekend, the Conservatives held their national convention in Vancouver, beginning their painful journey on the road they hope will return them to power in Ottawa. And despite the very unpleasant, open and frank exchanges that took place, the general tone was quite upbeat, especially towards the end of the convention.

As is to be expected, the final destination sought in that journey is the return to power. But no effort was made in Vancouver to hide from the fact that two inter-related milestones must be reached if the the long and uphill trek is to be successful.

Uppermost in the minds of delegates was the matter of electing a new political leader, even though the actual voting for this post is scheduled for May 2017. There was no open discussion of this and little blatant campaigning by declared and potential candidates. But everyone knew it is the most important strategic factor in the future electoral fortunes of the party.

The other major concern was the key objective of rebuilding the party’s policy platform and re-engineering its political image in order to make the party more attractive to voters at large, beyond its base supporters.

With that objective at the centre of the convention’s broader agenda, only one policy change was formally adopted: the party’s official definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman was amended to allow for same-sex unions.

That was a noteworthy demonstration of greater flexibility in the Conservatives’ traditionally hostile attitude to the full range of human rights enshrined in our constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Another good sign in that same direction was the positive reaction of a significant number of participants to the moving expression of distress and extreme disappointment laid before the convention by a Muslim delegate. Unuruzurum Heer complained bitterly about the vicious attacks against her Muslim community by the Harper regime in the long months preceding the 2015 election.

Similarly, long before the convention, a former minister in the Harper cabinet had publicly admitted her discomfort and remorse for her role in announcing the creation of a dedicated hotline for persons to report “culturally barbaric” practices. The announcement was one of many cases of subtle but unspoken demonization of Muslims and their culture.

Together with the more blatant and explicit demonization of all things Muslim, this anti-Muslim strategy was meant to create a climate of fear and insecurity aimed at scaring voters in Quebec and elsewhere so that they would vote for the “law and order” government of Stephen Harper. Such practices as the wearing of the veil (the niqab) were maliciously portrayed as being evil and representative of a terrorist religion and a terrorist culture that were allegedly threatening the safety of all things and persons Canadian.

The delegates and the Conservative party leadership at the convention were therefore forced to face up to the fact that their anti-Muslim strategy backfired and, along with many other failures, led to their crushing defeat in 2015.

But no commitment was made, even in such tense moments of the convention, to change those sad features of the party’s conduct.

In those circumstances, the Conservative party did not emerge from its convention in Vancouver with any tangible commitment to become more inclusive in its operations and its policies.

More specifically, the Conservatives will remain vulnerable to accusations of racism and xenophobia in general, especially in their immigration and citizenship platform and in their positions on foreign policy issues. The consensus among political analysts seems to be that a significant Conservative rebound is unlikely to happen anytime before the end of the second consecutive term of the Justin Trudeau Liberals, around 2025.

It is difficult to disagree with this prognosis.