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

Alberta premier Jason Kenney declared a public health state of emergency Tuesday and sweeping new measures as COVID-19 cases in the province continue to rise. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Kenney declares state of public health emergency as COVID-19 cases rise

High schools shift to online learning, businesses face new restrictions

(Photo submitted)
Bentley couple celebrates 60th anniversary

They still laugh, hold hands, play crib and fish says daughter

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

.
Alberta confirmed more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases Sunday

Central zone active cases slightly up

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

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

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer. (Photo submitted)
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval.

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

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
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Most Read