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

The Island Aurora arrived in Port McNeill on Sunday, June 14. (Gaby Wickstrom Facebook photo)
BC Ferries to trial two-ship service on Campbell River – Quadra Island route

BC Ferries’ newest vessel, Island Aurora, will sail on the Campbell River… Continue reading

Group physical activities have been suspended at Campbell River facilities. File photo by Marc Kitteringham - Campbell River Mirror.
Group physical activities suspended at Campbell River sports facilities

Classes and programs suspended at Strathcona Gardens, Sportsplex and Community Centre

The North Island 9-1-1 Corporation (NI911) has supported local residents for 25 years. Black Press file photo
North Island 911 looks to change how they get funding

Three options to be decided upon in early 2021

B.C. will be testing its Alert Ready system on Nov. 25. Black Press Media file
Why some people don’t get emergency alert notifications

Province testing Alert Ready system on Wednesday

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Drug overdoses lead to 5 deaths each day in October; drug toxicity continues to increase

COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

The Trenton Golden Hawks are changing their name and uniform for one game on Nov. 27 as they become the Trenton Snowbirds for one game to honour Capt. Jennifer Casey. Twitter photo
Hockey team honouring fallen Snowbird with Island connection

The Trenton Golden Hawks will become the Trenton Snowbirds for one game

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Most Read