Notes on the Occupation 3: A radicalized Conservative party as chaos agent

Posting these in order to work through my thinking on what is clearly becoming something that will go down in the history books, for good or ill.

Writing in the Toronto Star, Canada’s most insightful political columnist, Chantal Hébert, warns that if the Conservatives go full Radical Right, it would likely make them unelectable, reducing them to a fringe party. Given what we know about the flavours of Canadian conservatism – Red Toryism is still alive and well in Atlantic Canada, while Ontario, Quebec and BC all have their own idiosyncrasies – Hébert’s argument is very plausible.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t matter if the Conservatives get on the Trump Train. It matters enormously, for at least two reasons.

First, even if an outright victory is unlikely, it’s not impossible. You can’t win if you’re not in the game, and control over one of Canada’s two main parties is not nothing.

Second, even a fractured Conservative party could sow chaos. Simply having such an anti-democratic, extremist party as part of the political landscape would change the tenor of Canadian political debate, and not in a good way.

The United States’ slow fracturing offers a potent reminder that liberal-democratic politics requires a shared consensus on basic values in order to survive. In Canada, we all have our differences, but the political mainstream is embedded in a shared a commitment to equality and the democratic process as a way of working out our problems.

A Conservative embrace of the extremist right would fracture that consensus.

This consensus, always essential, will become increasingly important as Canada attempts to manage its relationship with the United States in the years ahead. In an insightful article that lays out the state of the States and Canada’s relationship to it, Thomas Homer-Dixon’s main recommendation for Canada w/r/t managing American chaos is to:

immediately convene a standing, non-partisan Parliamentary committee with representatives from the five sitting parties, all with full security clearances. It should be understood that this committee will continue to operate in coming years, regardless of changes in federal government. It should receive regular intelligence analyses and briefings by Canadian experts on political and social developments in the United States and their implications for democratic failure there. And it should be charged with providing the federal government with continuing, specific guidance as to how to prepare for and respond to that failure, should it occur.

This is an eminently sensible recommendation; I recommended something similar back in 2016.

But it assumes that all parties share a basic commitment to liberal-democratic values. A radical Conservative party that has more in common with Trumpism than the Canadian mainstream, would be a chaos agent on such a committee. A US Republican government, hostile to Canadian democratic and liberal values, would likely see this party as its voice in Ottawa and act accordingly, against Canadian interests and Canadian independence.

Even now, there are concerns about foreign/American funding of the Occupation. Which raises the question of why funding platforms aren’t regulated as financial entities in Canada, but that’s an issue for another day. (Short answer: Internet exceptionalism is a hell of a drug.)

All this to say, I think Hébert is correct that the Conservative embrace of Trumpism would turn it into a fringe party. But even a fringe party can inflict a lot of damage.

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