Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wears a mask on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The presumptive end of the Trump era in U.S. politics presents both challenges and opportunities for Canadian Conservatives: there are many in their party who were fans of Trump, but to win government, the Tories need to also reach out to many who were bitterly opposed to him. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wears a mask on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The presumptive end of the Trump era in U.S. politics presents both challenges and opportunities for Canadian Conservatives: there are many in their party who were fans of Trump, but to win government, the Tories need to also reach out to many who were bitterly opposed to him. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

What the end of the Trump era could mean for Canadian Conservatives

Trump will still loom large enough in the world’s collective memory for Conservatives to be compared to him

When Donald Trump leaves the White House, a regular feature of the last four years of Canadian politics is going to change: Conservatives will no longer constantly have to distance themselves from such a polarizing president.

But to win the next general election, they’ll still face a challenge: how to appeal both to the Trump-friendly supporters within their base, and to those Canadians who abhorred the Republican president and his policies.

For four years, Trump has served as a bogeyman for Conservative opponents, who would point to his divisive hold on U.S. politics and suggest that if a Conservative were elected in Canada, Trumpism would be imported here.

During the last federal election campaign, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party at the time, made the comparison explicit, suggesting that then Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was literally a puppet of the U.S. president.

“I looked your policies on foreign policy today, Andrew, and I realized if anyone wants to know where you stand, just figure out what Trump wants,” she said during the debate.

But a Democrat in the White House provides some political cover.

It will now be Justin Trudeau pressed on whether he’ll follow Biden’s lead on programs or policies, instead of the Tories pushed constantly on whether they’d follow Trump’s.

And if the Conservatives do form government in the next election, a Democratic president could be helpful, said Garry Keller, who served in several senior advisory roles in the last Conservative government.

Republican president George W. Bush was in office between 2000 and 2008 and the Conservatives came to power in 2006. At the time, aligning with him could be politically toxic, Keller said, even if versions of Bush’s policies made sense for Canada.

“When (Barack) Obama came along, the math completely changed,” he said.

Keller said during the Obama years, it became common for ministers to “hug” Obama — publicly linking policies with “the Obama administration,” instead of just saying they were aligning with the United States more generally.

“Canadians were obviously very favourable to President Obama,” he said.

“So it did give room to do things with the Americans on certain things that you couldn’t have done under the Bush administration.”

The vast majority of Canadians across the political spectrum tell pollsters again and again they don’t like Trump, but of those who do like him, most also tell pollsters they’d vote for the Tories. Among them: Conservative Senate leader Don Plett, who voiced his support for a second Trump term in a recent speech to the Senate.

Trump will still loom large enough in the world’s collective memory for Conservatives to be compared to him, said Andrea Van Vugt, who was a foreign-policy adviser to Stephen Harper.

“The Conservative party and Erin O’Toole’s team should expect that,” she said.

“They should anticipate it, they should understand how they’re going to push back.”

Van Vugt pointed out, however, that if Trump had truly poisoned conservatism in voters’ minds, a slew of conservative premiers wouldn’t have been elected over the last four years.

Among them is Ontario’s Doug Ford, whose “man of the people” style is seen as closest to Trump’s of the group.

O’Toole’s approach could be seen as taking some pages from the Trump playbook.

His leadership campaign slogan, “Take back Canada,” was interpreted by some as a northern play on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” line, though O’Toole has been far more pro-immigration and free trade than Trump has.

His aggressive stance against China, which also mirrors Trump’s, may be one that Canadians are on side with, Van Vugt suggested.

“I think that Canadians, if they sat back and thought about it for a minute, would say, ‘Well, you know, maybe it’s time for us to take a strong stand on China and the only recent memory we have a politician doing that is Trump,’ ” she said.

“And though we don’t agree with anything else that he does, this is probably one of those areas.”

READ MORE: Trump seems to acknowledge Biden win, but he won’t concede

Meanwhile, a decision to expressly court the union vote can also be seen as trying for the populism that worked for Trump — going after working-class Americans left behind by modern-day politicians and the global economy.

Trump won in 2016 on their support, and the reality of the 2020 presidential election is that in many cases he still had it, said Van Vugt.

But in some ways, she said, the results in the U.S. mirror what happened in the 2019 federal election in Canada: a Liberal minority government.

In both countries, she said, voters told the incumbent government it didn’t deserve another chance at full control, but they didn’t entirely trust the other side either.

Understanding what’s behind that and building a message that reaches people to earn their trust and a solid mandate to govern is a must for Canadian politicians, Van Vugt said.

“For any political party — the Conservatives, Liberals, the NDP — that’s the trick of the next election.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Labour Minister Harry Bains addressing Surrey Board of Trade digital meeting Friday. (Screen shot)
Labour Minister says Surrey businesses’ resilience through pandemic ‘impressive’

‘Surrey’s effort in bending the curve has been among the best,’ Harry Bains says

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Students, volunteers remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

Day-long project a collaboration between city, Lower Mainland Green Team

South Surrey’s Kirk Arsenault has started a new company, Str8laced, that sells cleat wraps that aim to keep athletes’ shoes from coming untied during games and practices. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey sports equipment entrepreneur tying up loose ends before Alberta move

Str8laced wraps keep laces from coming loose in the middle of play, says Kirk Arsenault

Raj Singh Toor (left) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudea after an official apology for the treatment of Komagata Maru passengers in 1914. (Contributed photo)
Request made for City of White Rock to honour Komagata Maru passengers

Raj Singh Toor confident city will rename ‘street, park or city asset’ in honour of 1914 tragedy

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

The driver of a pickup truck failed to stop after knocking down a wooden fence on March 3, 2021. (screen grab)
VIDEO: Footage catches pick-up driver smash fence on Abbotsford/Langley border

Driver came forward after video circulated on social media

Lower Mainland teens with Ocean Wise’s YouthToSea program have launched an initiative called Clean Coastal, Eat Local, through which they’re offering restaurant gift cards to individuals or households that organize a coastal cleanup in the month of March. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise)
Teens challenge Lower Mainlanders to clean up their act

YouthToSea offers restaurant gift cards in exchange for a cleaner coastline

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

Most Read