Of all the ways the organizers of the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference hoped to make news, surely a threat to kill the prime minister wasn’t at the top of the list. But on Wednesday, an American political strategist named Steven Sutton joked — and I use that term under duress — about the prime minister passing a few feet in front of him during his visit to the House of Commons the previous day. “I had my chance,” he said. “I went to the Naval Academy, so I could have killed him 20 different ways.”

Sutton, who boasted in the moment that he “wasn’t afraid of getting cancelled in Canada,” apologized within minutes for the remark. Still, it was a fitting start to an event that will be heavily marbled with those sorts of anti-Trudeau sentiments, and where hatred of the prime minister will be worn as a badge of honour. For conservatives, it will be an opportunity to gather with their peers, marinate in their mutual disdain for the media and trade notes on how they might finally win a federal election for the first time in a decade.

And make no mistake: this is no small gathering of conservative operatives. Instead, it’s a Canadian version of CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), an annual gathering of the biggest names in American conservative politics and one that sets the tone for the Republican Party across the country. Like CPAC, the Canada Strong and Free conference includes a mix of leading politicians like Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and most of the Conservative Party of Canada’s shadow cabinet, along with conservative cultural influencers like Conrad Black, who will — I kid you not — be delivering a keynote on “working for the middle class.”

That alone is probably worth the price of admission, if only for the absurdity of it all. But for everyone who can’t afford a ticket, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what the Conservative Party of Canada stands for right now — and where it might want to take the country. After all, with the Liberal government continuing to trip on its own shoelaces on a bunch of different files, the Tories’ odds of forming government keep getting better. If they do, this version of the Conservative Party of Canada’s first term in government won’t look much like the last one’s.

It’s easy to forget, given the hard turn to the right that Stephen Harper’s government took at the end of its tenure. But in its earliest days in office, Harper was, well, conservative. He didn’t make big aggressive policy declarations, and he didn’t pick fights with provinces or people he didn’t like. Instead, he slowly and very strategically built his coalition of potential voters until he was able to secure his majority in 2011.

A big part of that strategy involved Progressive Conservatives like the late Jim Prentice (who voted in favour of same-sex marriage while in opposition), Michael Chong, James Moore, Lisa Raitt and Jim Flaherty. They occupied key roles in his cabinets and helped moderate the more inflammatory impulses of the party’s Prairie Reform wing. It’s no coincidence Harper’s big breakthrough in 2011 happened in suburban parts of the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver, places where conservatism can’t really thrive without at least a hint of its progressive element.

Current Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s party, by contrast, has no such moderating forces. There is no fight it won’t pick, no norm it won’t break and no institution it won’t attack. It thrives on conflict, trades in misinformation (witness CPC communications director Sarah Fischer’s tweet this week that the federal government was going to “triple” the carbon tax on April 1) and turns everything into an opportunity for partisan sniping.

It’s becoming a thinly diluted version of the current Republican Party, one that’s similarly defined by its growing obsession with “woke” culture and other fronts in the culture war. But it’s also a natural extension of the populist mindset that Preston Manning, the founder of the Canada Strong and Free Network, introduced to the conservative universe more than 30 years ago. The skepticism of institutions, disdain for “Laurentian elites” and deep antipathy towards climate policy and anything that might threaten the oil and gas industry have become defining conservative values.

Manning’s takeover of the conservative movement in Canada, in other words, is now complete. And while neither he nor his party was ever able to win an election, his values and beliefs may yet win the day. The question now is whether voters will endorse them in a general election — and what this version of the Conservative Party of Canada might do once in power.

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These people know they can get a majority government with something like 38% of the vote ( in the right places). Their cynicism is at the level that they know they don't have to care about the rest of the 62% of us. I'm really concerned that Trudeau is underestimating this threat. Chantal Hebert mentioned this last night on CBC's At Issue panel. Will the Liberals wake up before the next election?

Difficult to understand what is going on with the Liberals. It is as if Trudeau is bored with his position and the Party has no interest in maintaining its former integrity nor any plan whatsoever, for now or for going forward. Very concerning. They are making a place at the table for Polivere.

The Liberals seem to be behaving like the establishment Democrats in the US. They have so many avenues open for "wins" and choose not to take them. The Democratic party often stifles any progressives that could win. In the American case corruption is a much bigger factor than it is in Canada (Citizens United) but the sleepwalking seems eerily the same.

Trudeau is underestimating the threat but so are Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May who represent those other contingents needed to assert our natural progressive majority. That's how Harper and his Reform Conservatives attained power.
There used to be regular talk about uniting the left, but I haven't heard that for ages. Why in hell NOT?
A pox on all their houses for that narcissism of small differences that pretends to care about the people in this country, but whose actions speak loudly otherwise.

We lack inspirational Leadership. Conservatives beating a drum and making the news because they have an exciting Candidate.
But Jagmeet Singh usually silent and just coasting on Trudeau’s coat tails. No news there.
Elizabeth May is brilliant and usually the smartest person in the room but fiasco of leadership transition was huge setback at precisely the time when Greens had traction. Frankly, I don’t understand why the ‘mainstream’ don’t give the Greens more support now that it is very clear the entire planet is in jeopardy and we need a larger Green contingent in Parliament. Not to run the Country but be a larger conscience.
Elizabeth back to lead the Party again she does make news.

But who to replace Trudeau?

Anyone interested in the ‘Third Stage’ group they have in the U.S.? People over 60 staging sit ins in front of Banks like RBC who fund fossil fuel companies etc? We could do that here.

I really doubt Jagmeet Singh is usually silent. We should not confuse media willingness to give someone coverage with the amount of statements that person is actually making.
Not that I think he's an amazing leader--a nice fellow, yes, and a better leader than Poilievre or Trudeau, but those are low bars. Still, if Poilievre, Trudeau, and Singh were given equal coverage with equivalent slanting, Singh would have a very good shot at the Prime Minister's job. For an NDP leader to have the ghost of a chance, they have to be both an excellent leader, a charismatic speaker, AND have an amazing predatory instinct for poking buttons that pull the media into covering them. Pity Jack died.

"Frankly, I don’t understand why the ‘mainstream’ don’t give the Greens more support now that it is very clear the entire planet is in jeopardy and we need a larger Green contingent in Parliament."

For that to happen the federal Greens need to grow up.

Two elections ago they ran a fake candidate in my competitive riding in Vancouver. She was a placeholder, a paper candidate meant only to fulfil a poorly thought out policy to run a candidate in every riding, and E. May herself acknowledged as much. In fact, the riding's Green staff were mainly working for another candidate, Independent (and former Liberal) Jody Wilson Raybould.

The Green candidate was an unknown real estate agent on Vancouver's West Side where outrageous housing prices catalyzed the affordability issue into a major crisis. The Greens took thousands of votes away from the NDP candidate and Libs, but I was happy to see JWR still win after Trudeau's arrogance toward her and his policy half-measures during his first term.

In other elections, the results presented an annoying see-saw between the NDP and Libs, with the Greens poised for a while to spoil the progressive vote and allow the Conservative to eek out a narrow win. Three centre-progressive parties vs one right wing candidate ... that isn't math that makes progressives comfortable enough to vote their conscience. Strategic voting alone has kept the Conservatives out of this seat.

If the Greens want to win more seats, then they need to stop spreading themselves so thinly across the land, so thin that they'll actually run paper candidates. Why not run a pet cat as candidate if they are that cynical? They need to run real and well known candidates in ridings they can win, while also having an adult conversation with the NDP on both parties pulling candidates in certain competitive ridings where one of them has a slightly better chance than the other.

The Greens also need to talk to the NDP on approaching the Libs together to offer an outline for a temporary coalition that could be run as a single opponent on the ballots to the Conservatives, instead of three opponents. This makes more sense as Trudeau's time as PM is nearly spent, and the possibility increases that he may drag the Libs down with him next election concurrent with the rise of the unmitigated disaster known as Pierre Poilievre with his hard right alphabet soup policy framework.

This means that the Canadian minority government model doesn't match the strength it had in the 60s, has probably run its course and is perhaps not strong enough to unite progressives or inspire the minority partner to actually pull the plug when necessary. Liberal, NDP and Green cabinet ministers working together under a limited agreement (three year time limit?) in a full coalition to enact a raft of previously agreed on policies will give many Canadians hope for the planet and for social justice. If that is too "left" for Trudeau et al, then hello PP and vociferous recriminations from progressives against the Lib for years.

But first, the Greens need to conduct themselves as cabinet ministers-in-waiting and stop the kindergarten infighting and partisan wrangling with the NDP.

There isn't much talk about it because there is no left to unite; the Liberals are not left. I suppose it might be worth talking about uniting the non-fascists, but we should admit that that is not the same thing.

Also, the NDP can get much more left-ish policies passed as a significant faction in a minority parliament than they could if they folded themselves into the Liberal party ("some" rather than "zero"). It seems likely that minority parliaments may be quite common going forward, so that would be a significant loss. And the gains might prove illusory. It is not guaranteed that a merger of two parties will result in all the voters for those two parties voting for the new merged party. Especially since, if the NDP disappeared, probably somebody would start a new left wing party, which would be likely to attract the left half or so of the NDP including the more left wing NDP politicians, plus a bunch of young activists. The result would be slightly more radical than the existing NDP, but would lack the NDP's historical baggage and most likely have significantly stronger green credentials. Which might be kind of good, but it wouldn't actually defragment the political landscape.

Of course if the Liberals are REALLY worried about the Conservatives taking over, they could institute proportional representation, in a stroke ending the prospect of Conservatives gaining a majority of seats with a minority of votes. But they are unlikely to do so, because they are always looking forward to the prospect of themselves gaining a majority of seats with a minority of votes.

No guarantee with PR either, note Israel at the moment.

If you have a situation where you can get a fascist majority in parliament because the majority of the population actually wants to vote for fascists, there's nothing much you can do but head for the exits.

Denmark is a decent place.

Most of the people that would vote for the "fascists" really have no idea that's what they're voting for. There's a reason Poilievre is avoiding dealing with the mainstream media. He doesn't want the semi-conscious conservative voters to figure out what he's really up to. Also, there's very little coverage of this conference in other outlets which is not a good thing.

Exactly. A preponderance of "low-information" voters out there. And in the Israeli case, they were probably just doing the tolerant thing we're still doing when it comes to religion, which is to completely ignore the fact that true believers who have turned to politics may well want power as the ultimate affirmation of their religious beliefs. Everyone says oh, they're fine with religion as long as they don't try and shove it down our throats. Well, this is them doing that. I mean if you REALLY believe there's some god or other in charge, how does it NOT automatically "trump" our paltry, man-made rule of law? Which is what these wanna-be god guys are now emboldened to shoot for. And Netanyahu just wants to avoid his corruption charges, so the coalition is just another example of the banality of evil taking full advantage of the irrational but lingering societal taboo on criticizing or even mentioning anyone's religion. Look how the evangelical Christian Republicans have somehow survived intact despite openly supporting Trump for gawd's sake.
And agreed about the media not covering that conference, but the conservatives have become proficient at manipulating and/or excluding the lamestream media. Poilievre IS doing more announcements, but you don't see him taking questions.

But EVERYONE should know what that brash American "political strategist" at that conference said.

Meant ‘Third Act’ (not ‘stage).

Anyone interested?