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The Leaderless Conservative Party Leadership Race

BY: Emily Thom

After missing a “breakaway on an open net” in the last federal election, as Conservative leadership candidate Peter Mackay so plainly put it, Andrew Scheer accepted defeat to a Liberal minority government this past fall. Scheer—now former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)—resigned in December of 2019, commencing the party’s search for a leader to take down Justin Trudeau. Originally scheduled for March of 2020, the leadership race was delayed until August 2020, giving eligible CPC members until August 21 to submit their mail-in ballots. With Trudeau’s minority government slowly sinking in a sea of ethics scandals and blunders in non-COVID affairs, all eyes are on the Conservative Party to present a viable alternative to the Liberals in the next federal election.


In July, the CPC reported that nearly 270 000 party members are eligible to vote, further proving that the Conservatives have a growing support base that lacks only a competent leader in order to triumph. Despite this opportunity for a Conservative victory, the CPC leadership race lacks leadership material, much less prime ministerial material. The four candidates—Peter Mackay, Erin O’Toole, Leslyn Lewis, and Derek Sloan—are divided on social issues, the environment, and revamping the economy, leaving the party’s solemn call for unity largely unanswered. 

Perhaps an early indicator of troubles to come in Ottawa, the two debates held in June spoke volumes regarding both the state of the CPC itself, as well as the candidates’ individual campaigns. The French language debate was overshadowed by the candidates’ lacking proficiency in French, one of Canada’s official languages, which significantly limited both Lewis and Sloan’s participation in the discussion. This trend of insufficient language skills reveals a broader lack of representation for French Canadians’ interests among CPC candidates while questioning their ability to function effectively within a bilingual government institution. In the English debate, discussion ensued surrounding their mutual disapproval of Justin Trudeau’s policies and actions. However, the candidates failed to present innovative platforms to rival Liberal policies, embodying the critical eye of the Official Opposition instead of a government.

The greatest divisions between the CPC leadership contenders emerge on social issues. Critics agree that Andrew Scheer’s vague stances on issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, and LGBTQ+ rights partly contributed to his downfall. Nevertheless, frontrunners Mackay and O’Toole are falling into the very same trap with inconsistent positions on prevalent issues in Canadian society. Peter Mackay is perhaps the most progressive candidate after vowing to march in the Toronto Pride Parade, now cancelled due to COVID-19, as the first Conservative leader or leadership candidate to do so. On the other hand, Mackay has recently been criticized for referring to the Transgender Rights Bill as the “bathroom bill” in an email to his supporters. This derogatory language undermines the rights of the LGBTQ+ community while raising doubt surrounding Mackay’s position as a social moderate. 

As for Erin O’Toole, he strives to be the second pick for social conservatives, criticizing Liberal legislation banning conversion therapy as well as physician assisted suicide. In addition, O’Toole vows to challenge “cancel culture and attacks from the radical left”, a statement that is deeply polarizing and frankly illogical in comparison to his call for unity. Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan are both social conservatives, taking hardline stances on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. These two candidates are most troubling as their platforms fail to recognize Canada’s reality as a nation in which women and members of the LGBTQ+ community have the constitutional right to life and liberty free from discrimination. 

Moreover, the CPC leadership race contenders find themselves at odds on the environment. While candidates agree that the carbon tax is nothing but Liberal taxation scheme, they approach the issue of climate change with various ambiguous platforms that have yet to be completely fleshed out. Erin O’Toole prides himself on representing Western interests with the support of Alberta premier Jason Kenney. He originally promised to end fossil fuel subsidies only to later erase this commitment from the re-released version of his campaign platforms. O’Toole also vowed to reach net zero emissions by 2050, matching the Liberals’ campaign promise. This stands in contrast to his albeit naïve belief that a balance may be found between the oil and gas sector and the environment. 

The other three leadership candidates leave Canadians in the dark regarding their environmental platforms. Peter Mackay took a page out of Andrew Scheer’s book by proposing advancements in technology, investments in carbon sequestration, and selling Canadian natural gas abroad to reduce coal emissions. The specifics of Mackay’s dismal climate change plan are unknown. Lewis and Sloan vow to repeal Bill C-69 which mandates a government assessment of major development projects, namely pipelines. Lewis wants to encourage green investment and home renovations, while Sloan plans to allow oil tankers to travel in northern British Columbia by scraping Bill C-48. This is all to say that decisive leadership in the midst of the current climate crisis will not be found among the Conservatives. 

It is worth noting that Mackay and O’Toole have more concrete platforms to help restart the Canadian economy post-COVID, both of which include extending the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program to help small businesses and rebuilding the country’s manufacturing sector. Their plans also include cuts in government spending with the goal of returning to a balanced budget. 

The CPC leadership race is fragmented at best. Candidates call for unity but fail to put forth platforms worth uniting behind. This race is only a magnifier for the identity crisis at hand within the Conservative Party. It is obvious that the leadership contenders themselves can’t seem to decide what they stand for (besides a Liberal defeat, of course). With the campaign period drawing to a close, Conservatives can only hope that they won’t miss the open net this time around… 

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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