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

Island Health is expanding COVID-19 testing in Nanaimo with a new testing location at Vancouver Island University. (News Bulletin file photo)
Island Health issues apology over racist practices in health care system

Report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond finds ‘widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people’

Island Health has reported a COVID-19 outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak hits first Greater Victoria hospital

Island Health declares outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital

The Sooke School District is actively looking for more bus drivers after they had to cancel a handful of bus routes in late November. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bus driver shortage cancels routes in Sooke School District

More drivers needed to accomodate expanding bus routes amid pandemic

Penny Hart is calling on the community to help find her son Sean Hart who was last seen on Nov. 6 at a health institution in Saanich. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Search spreads for Saanich man missing from mental health facility for nearly a month

Family hopeful as possible sightings reported across Island and in Vancouver

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

(AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
POLL: Has COVID-19 changed your plans for the holidays?

The lights are going up, the stacks of presents under the tree… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 1

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are inviting audiences into their home for ‘A Celtic Family Christmas’. (Submitted)
Natalie MacMaster coming to you through Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Here’s your chance to enjoy the famed fiddler in an online show with her husband Donnell Leahy.

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Most Read