OTTAWA — An advocacy group started by centrist Conservatives to provide more of a voice to the political middle has dropped the party's name to expand its base.

The "Centre Ice Conservatives" have become the "Centre Ice Canadians." What does that say about the state of the federal party and the role of moderate Tories within it?

According to Rick Peterson, one of the group's co-founders, the move shouldn't be taken as a sign of any major shift.

He says the decision simply reflects how the group heard from supporters who wanted to get involved without appearing to be members of the federal Conservative party.

Peterson, an Edmonton-based businessman who ran as a candidate in the party's 2017 leadership race, says the current contest — in which many are expecting longtime Conservative Pierre Poilievre to take the victory — had a "minimal" effect on its decision.

"I don't think it's so much a reflection of any formal party. It's just that the reason we started Centre Ice Conservatives is we didn't think any of the parties were adequately addressing issues in the centre," he says. "And we've been right."

He added: "This is not an anti-Pierre Poilievre movement."

Still, with less than two weeks left in the race before the next leader is chosen, questions linger about what unity looks like and how different parts of the Conservative coalition, including the party's moderates, will react to a Poilievre win.

While Poilievre has campaigned on economic messages of battling inflation and high housing prices, he has also defended participants of last winter's "Freedom Convoy" in Ottawa and promised to ban future ministers from attending the World Economic Forum — a global organization that has been the subject of rampant conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those moves have caused some to worry about the party's direction, prompting concerns that the positions could cost Conservatives in areas like the seat-rich Greater Toronto Area, much of which is currently held by the governing Liberals.

Moderate Tory breakaway group Centre Ice, drops the word conservative from their name. #cdnpoli

Longtime Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis says Poilievre's political record is that of a centrist or centre-right Conservative. That is reflected in campaign promises such as vowing to expand the runway at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to allow larger jets, she said.

What's happening, Paradis suggests, is that Poilievre is reflecting the country's anger.

"The tone in the country has shifted," she says. "And he's speaking to it, which isn't the same thing as being far-right."

Paradis says the task ahead of the next leader will be to make sure everyone feels included. She pointed out that members have been vocally concerned about leadership contest winners in the past, but have nonetheless stuck around.

"We had this conversation when Andrew Scheer was elected," she said, recalling the 2017 leadership contest.

"People thought, 'OK, well, you know he's more socially conservative. Are the progressives going to leave the party because he's leader?' And they didn't."

One of the first chances the new leader will have to gauge reception to their victory will be when the Conservative national caucus meets, which is tentatively planned for Sept.12, two days after the ballot results are unveiled.

British Columbia member of Parliament Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who is co-chairing Poilievre's campaign in that province, believes that once the race is over, colleagues will come together.

"Now, that doesn't mean that a couple of people might not be happy with the choice, or might make decisions to do something different. Or, you know, they've been there a long time, they might decide they don't want to continue," she says.

"But that happens with every leadership."

Findlay says reception to Poilievre in her province has been thrilling to watch, with supporters packing venues like she's never seen before in regions that are not typically Conservative territory — like on Vancouver Island, where they have no members of Parliament. She is one of 62 MPs backing him.

But Quebec MP Joel Godin, for one, has already signalled that if Poilievre doesn't shift more toward the political centre, he would re-evaluate his own future with the party.

When it comes to the caucus's reaction to Poilievre's more-controversial positions, Findlay pointed to vaccine mandates as a non-issue, saying the party has been opposed to them for some time. Other issues will be up to the next leader and MPs to decide on, she says.

"The first caucus meeting, and thereafter, will be all these opportunities to talk about how we move forward, how we move forward as a team, what our priorities for messaging will be."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

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"Longtime Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis says Poilievre's political record is that of a centrist or centre-right Conservative."

Honestly. Got any hard evidence to back that up, Mme Paradis?

This is the guy who defrauded Canadian taxpayers his last time around, by using civil servants and civil service supports, illegally, to create a vanity video for himself prior to an election.

Not having been satisfied with that, he then went on to imperil our entire electoral system with his "Fair Elections Act"--which was anything but, and would have disenfranchised many Canadian voters.

And he's no better this time around.

I do wish that some political spin-meisters had either the integrity, or the knowledge, to look back at a candidate's past performance when in office, before thumping their drums for someone who is clearly so dangerous to Canadian society.

Indeed, WE remember that but a distinct feature of this horrible "new" right wing is its assumption that no one even considers past behaviour, egregious though they are. There's obviously an attempt to mitigate the outrageousness with a "nothing happening here" attitude when there's a complete sea change on the right that's stupid AND dangerous to our democracy like never before, same as with the Republicans.
The "centre ice" name where they drop the conservative part altogether is disengenuous, reminds me of the "Alberta Party" here, but a term used in a hockey game? Stupid. And the infuriating assumption that they're the REAL people and the majority, yeah right, methinks thou doth protest too much. And vaccine mandates, everyone is against them? No, not true. The majority wanted them and may well again.
Maybe it's all collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity and has become an embarrassment that reasonable people now cringe at. Removing the conservative name is actually promising; let's just hope it's as telling as what's happened when they deliberately removed the word "progressive."

"What's happening, Paradis suggests, is that Poilievre is reflecting the country's anger. 'The tone in the country has shifted,' she says. 'And he's speaking to it, which isn't the same thing as being far-right.'

This is the bit that got me. He isn't speaking to "the country's anger," he's fomenting it. He could be pointing out that no one in Canada has been held down and jabbed with a Covid vaccine, but no. He could be pointing out that we're one of the freest nations on Earth, but no. He could be encouraging critical thinking (and thinking, period), but no (his first act would be a simpler language law for the federal government because they use "obtain" instead of "get" ... sigh). He could be telling his followers that we ALL have to be working together for Mutually Assured Survival (as we face existential threats from climate chaos and breakdown as well as nuclear annihilation), but no. He could be telling people the truth, but no. He perpetuates conspiracy theories -- but only those that serve his purpose (not the actual conspiracy of Big Banks, Big Fossil Fuels and the puny little governments in their pockets to keep burning up the Earth till we're all gone). Young people are flocking to this person at their peril. I'm saddened. (Sorry, Centre Ice, I know this article was supposed to be about you. Maybe keep "conserve" at the centre of your centre ice?)

The federal election is a couple or three years away. It's too early to predict BC's support for Poilievre, except perhaps in rural areas. It will likely be quite negative in vote-rich urban Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island communities, with exceptions made for some suburbs.

Strategic voters in competitive ridings defeated Harper and kept Trudeau's second and third terms down to a minority. There is no reason to believe Poilievre is capable of winning them over with charm and lofty rhetoric, shallow-minded crafts that Trudeau succeeded in only once. In fact, charm and persuasive oratory cannot be associated with a dude who comes across as having anger issues and a penchant for kissing the feet of conspiracy theorists and their deluded followers, not because he believes in them, but because he will stoop low enough to use them to gain power.

Once he's got the leadership bagged for one of Canada's two regressive parties, watch him think hard about change. The problem for him is, to change in which direction? O'Toole changed very suddenly to a modern moderate from a dinosaur, and people saw right through that as pathetic and opportunistic. Change to yet more rage and football hooligan convoy behaviour, and voters -- the vast majority of whom are moderate -- will exercise their right to backhand him hard on their ballot.

The one thing he's got going for himself is an ability to tap the people's increasing distaste for Trudeau. But that could change if the kid retired and Chrystia took the wheel and built better connections to progressive parties on issues they have in common, which are in fact issues that roughly 2/3 of Canadians are keen on.

Poor Pierre. He's boxing himself in and shrinking his little world even more. "Tough guys" do get clobbered on occasion, especially when the image-making is paper thin.

As “Centre Ice Conservative” founder Rick Peterson insists, the name-change to “Centre Hice Canadiens” is more translation than an actual mission-change—that’s because when it comes to the ever widening gap between traditional centre-right Tory conservatism and the increasingly extreme, tRumpublican-style neo-rightism of the CPC, represented by the likes of Pierre Poilievre and Maxime Bernier (remember him? PP sure does…), there hasn’t been much of a change since the CPC lost the 2015 election—just in time for Donald F tRump to begin his bid for the GOP presiduncial nomination. That campaign was so envied by the peevishly defeated CPC that most of the party (like most of the now-spiralling out-of-control tRumublican party) hangs onto its ethos for dear life and, for PP, it’s steady as she goes, even if the far right edge of his flat earth gets perilously closer and closer. Whatever “CIC” means, it’s stock conservative practice to make out like ‘there’s nothing to see here, we’re all united as hell, just give us your vote and move along, move along now…’

You’d either have to be delusional or a member of the CPC—or both—not to see that the more the CPC invites extremists into the party to make up for natural geriatric attrition, poor recruitment of ordinary citizens, and the accelerating flight of moderates to other parties, the more likely centre-right Tories will entertain the idea of, if not actually form a bona fide, new conservative party—maybe even call it the NCP of Canada, or something…

The CPC schism is inborn: it fissures along the scar tissue that connects the Western Reformers with the old ProgCon party whose last leader betrayed it to CPC-founder Stephen Harper in 2003. Within days, PC-elected MP Scott Briton crossed the floor to the Liberals. Indeed, ProgCon betrayer Peter MacKay became its leader on the condition he wouldn’t merge the party with the newly-created Alliance—often remembered as the Reform-a-CRAP-a-Con Alliance party—a condition he of course broke by doing just that to form the new CPC. But there were already schisms in both halves of this unholy marriage so perhaps the inheritance was inevitable.

Certainly the schismatic genes of either parent party appear to be dominant—meaning the increasing viciousness of subsequent back-crosses isn’t necessarily evidence of consanguinity —at least its not something conservatives are comfortable talking about in public.

How analytically convenient it was that the only two ProgCons were elected in 1993 (after the party won the two largest parliamentary majorities in Canadian history, back-to-back, but was almost totally wiped out in ‘93, even the nation’s first woman Prime Minister losing her seat). One was Elsie Wayne who was elected a Maritimes PC but approved of the merger most PC members did not, and who became interim PC leader until former PM Joe Clark—who was against the merger— retook the reins of his old party. The other was the leader-by-default of that demoralized PC caucus of two who preferred instead to run for the leadership of the Quebec Liberals, perhaps rather than get into bed with the Western Reform-a-CRAP-a-Cons. He is none other than Jean Charest, reputed second-place CPC leadership candidate representing Tory moderation versus Poilievre’s tRumpublican extremism.

Such was the split in the CPC’s ProgCon progenitor, now resurrected, as ‘t were, with Charest’s starkly contrasting moderate platform against Poilievre’s extreme one.

Reform founder Preston Manning’s “Unite the Right” campaign was also born of schism—the one where he and Bloc Québécois founder Lucien Bouchard tore Mulroney’s “grand coalition” in two. Realizing, after his party’s bigoted Quebec-baiting, that Reform could not count on support from Les Bleus nationalists, the only way to overcome repeated Liberal victories was to court the rump PC party, now up to 20 MPs—that is, court the party he and Bouchard had ridiculed, berated, and almost destroyed. But before MacKay’s treachery achieved the shotgun wedding, Manning tried to makeover Reform by changing its name to Alliance and holding a leadership convention which he lost to former Alberta PC MLA Stockwell Day.

Under Day’s incompetent leadership, an independent conservative caucus hove off in protest. In typical conservative fashion, this new caucus insisted it was still part of a strong and united party when, obviously, it wasn’t. When the wily Chrétien was granted a snap election whilst the Alliance’s pants were embarrassingly down at it ankles, the Liberals won a third majority. Day’s defeat produced another typical conservative reaction: outrage and blame—not on their own partisan disarray but on Chrétien’s alleged “playing politics” with his snap-election tactic. During this maudlin display, another schism germinated in the form of Magna heiress Belinda Stronach.

It was Ms Stronach who brokered the merger between Harper and MacKay, and she herself contested the subsequent CPC leadership contest as the progressive alternative to “Firewall” Harper’s Western faction which had become increasingly petulant, acting out its frustrations over embarrassments like Manning and Day which the Liberals and the Bloc exploited so effectively in their respective realms. Harper of course won the first CPC leadership and went on to reduce Paul Martin’s Liberals to a minority in 2004. However, Stronach found Harper’s policies distasteful and crossed the floor to the Liberals just days before a confidence vote Harper had hoped would topple the Liberal minority (coincidentally, it was also a personal split between Stronach and MacKay who, up until then, had been dating). This Brison-like mini-schism now introduced another which had been quietly brewing in the BC riding of Surrey North.

Stronach’s defection shorted Harper’s plan to topple the Liberal government, leaving the balance-of-power swing-vote to one Chuck Cadman who’d been originally elected as an Alliance MP, but for whom the Harper would not sign nomination papers, allowing a challenger to win the CPC nomination. Cadman thence ran as an Independent and won. One vote short of toppling Martin in 2005, Harper had the gall to tempt Cadman with an invitation to join the CPC as cabinet minister if he voted non-confidence against Martin’s government (such inducements are in fact illegal). A man of honour soon expected to die of cancer, Cadman refused to sully his legacy by accepting Harper’s offer (perhaps indicative of another kind of schism, Cadman’s wife Donna did that for him posthumously by accepting Harper’s invitation to run as a CPC candidate on her late husband’s reputable name). So Cadman subsequently voted to support the Liberal budget (the confidence matter) in accordance, he said, with his constituents’ wishes not to face an election only a year after the previous one.

Another schism somewhat atypical for the Liberal party must be acknowledged to fully understand the Harper regime. The Soviet collapse inspired neoliberal globalization under Fukuyama’s “End of History” rubric, ultimately shifting every party rightward on the partisan spectrum. It cost NDP leader Thomas Mulcair his leadership for, members claimed, moving too far rightward as evidenced, they said, by his 2015 campaign promise to balance the budget. Espoused by PM Paul Martin, formerly Chrétien’s deficit-slashing finance minister, the philosophy was bequeathed upon the once-mighty Liberal party, causing it to split between neoliberal Ignatieff and former Ontario NDP Premier-turned federal Liberal Bob Ray, a rift that effectively put the party out of the running for a decade. Harper’s new party was precariously wedded by treachery but exploited the Liberals’ schism to win two minority and one, final majority, all by default —as did the NDP to become Loyal Opposition for the first time. (The Bloc, originally the Quebec caucus of the Mulroney PCs, is somewhat immune to neoliberal-caused schism: fundamentally a nationalist party, it is otherwise a politcal-philosophy chameleon.) But what does a party gain in winning government for a decade but lose its soul as a result? This is the CPC’s pressing question, whether some of its supporters realize it or not.

The CPC had horseshoes up its arse: it was created at the zenith of the neo-right movement which was soon discredited (it promised “trickledown” prosperity but delivered social and ecological malaise instead), created when traditional conservative parties were weak and easily usurped, was led by a strict disciplinarian who could keep its two halves, each schismatic in its own way, together, but most of all, the CPC enjoyed little opposition as its once-potent rival punched itself out of competition. Lucky. Lucky, lucky.

It’s no mere coincidence the CPC’s began to decline when neoliberals’ trickledown was revealed as bull, when the Liberals resurrected united under a young leader, and when Harper’s strict leadership was relieved. The decline actually began for all globalizing neoliberal-usurped conservative parties in the Western World just about when the CPC came to power; thus, the CPC’s whole existence has been spent fighting a rearguard retreat while trying to get certain agendas done before it’s too late.

For this reason it resorted to tactics that were increasingly shady until, in the desperate throes it now finds itself, extreme measures are blithely employed, many adopted from tRumpublicanism which, as mentioned, is also a neoliberal usurper of a traditional conservative party. Indeed, it is trapped in its own vicious circle: the more extremists it invites in to compensate for growing loses, the more moderates head for the exit and the more extremists are needed to make up the deficit. And so on, Poilievre.

One overt schism has already happened: Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, an even more far-right party that PP must woo back into the CPC if it doesn’t want the right-wing vote to split. Yet, in so doing, Poilievre is tightening that vicious circle and driving away more moderates—such as are left in the party.

It’s small wonder moderate centre-righters dream of a moderate alternative to the CPC.