When suburban voters side with people who live downtown, as they did in the past two federal elections, Liberals win government. When they side with their country cousins, as they did in 2011, Conservatives win. The platform that the Tories released Monday is designed to make 2011 happen again.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and his advisers have crafted a dense mix of measures that might best be described as “thoughtful populism.” Some of those measures, such as allowing foreign telecoms to compete with Canadian providers for your cellphone business, are long overdue. Some of them, such as the one-month GST holiday, are gimmicks.
But all of them aim to attract suburban voters, especially those who are less economically secure, while painting the Liberals as the party of fat-cat Corporate Canada. Will it work? We’ll soon see.
The first thing that the Conservatives want you to know is that their plan is serious – 83 pages as a PDF, with tiny type but also with many pictures of Mr. O’Toole, who is looking very fit these days.
The second thing they want you to know is that the Tories are anti-big business. The manifesto is chock full of promises to “stand up to Corporate Canada” by targeting uncompetitive practices, to “make foreign tech companies pay their fair share of taxes,” to go after “wealthy tax evaders and big corporations,” to close tax loopholes for ”rich, big corporations and those with connections in Ottawa,” to stop kowtowing to ”the wealthy, big U.S. tech companies, and large multinationals,” and to “stand up for those who don’t have a voice.”
They would even amend the Labour Code to make it easier for unions to organize, especially against “large employers with a history of anti-labour activity.”
Third, Canada’s Conservatives are anti-downtown. “We can’t just have a recovery for the downtowns of a few big cities. ... We can’t just have a recovery for downtown Toronto. ... Too many politicians and journalists who live in our big cities ignore, don’t understand or simply don’t care about what is happening outside the major urban areas.” And so on.
The plan has a distinct bias against well-educated, affluent families with progressive views, and a distinct bias toward people who are less economically secure and more socially conservative. So as well as promising many billions of dollars to create jobs, the Conservatives plan to scrap the Liberals’ $10-a-day child-care program, which advantages those who can already afford child care, and send the money directly to parents, to use as they wish. People who work nights and rely on unconventional child care sources would appreciate that.
In related news, the Conservatives would counter wokeness on campus by ensuring that “public postsecondary institutions accommodate the range of perspectives that make up Canada through a commitment to free speech and academic freedom.” And CBC News would be subjected to a not-very-friendly review to ensure “it no longer competes with private Canadian broadcasters and digital providers.”
Fourth, Canada’s Conservatives are tough. They plan harsher penalties for “interference with an infrastructure facility or a public transportation system.” The Tories are betting suburban voters don’t approve of blockades by Indigenous and environmental protesters.
They plan to be tough on China. They want tariffs on products from countries “like China” that emit high levels of carbon. They want to reduce dependence on trade from China. They would strengthen alliances to combat “China’s growing authoritarianism, regional influence, and military expansionism.”
But they would encourage students from Hong Kong to come to Canada, and are generally favourable to robust immigration. A new program would permit “direct private sponsorship of persecuted religious and sexual minorities.”
There is plenty in the plan for core supporters, such as lifting the ban on tanker traffic off B.C’s north coast, and improving the tax treatment of family farms.
But Mr. O’Toole has angered many core supporters by committing his party to pricing carbon, with revenue going into “personal low carbon savings accounts” that people could draw from to buy cool green things, such as e-bikes. Suburban voters care about climate change.
Over all, the plan is comprehensive, detailed – and uncosted. (The Parliamentary Budget Officer is reviewing the document.) But in one sense, the numbers don’t matter as much as the intent: to shore up the Conservatives’ Western and rural base, while attracting suburban voters who work at Walmart.
Now it’s up to Mr. O’Toole to sell it.
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