Addressing a gathering of self-described “Centre Ice Conservatives” in Edmonton on Thursday, former B.C. Premier Christy Clark explained why people in the room had gathered.
“When you look across the country, what we see are political leaders rushing to the margins. Political leaders of all political stripes – they’re all trying to get right to the edge,” he said. she declared. “And you’re trying to do the exact opposite. You’re trying to preserve that political middle ground that has saved Canada so many times and that has preserved our country.”
The only question now is how the Ice Center conservatives – or any other group of dissatisfied centre-right conservatives – could go about it.
Although a possible name change was teased at the end of the day’s discussions, the group currently known as the Center Ice Conservatives was founded by Rick Peterson, a former investment banker who ran for leader of the Conservatives in 2017 and finished 12th (he also briefly entered the Conservative Party leadership race in 2020, but dropped out after two months).
“We are a platform that intends to be a strong, bold and proud voice for the centre-right of the Canadian political spectrum,” Peterson said. explains on the band’s website.
Thursday’s event was billed as the first annual “Let’s Grow Canada” conference and panelists included a mix of academics, journalists and politicians – former Conservative MP Leona Alleslev, former Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton and former Conservative candidate Ann Francis. The only active politician in attendance—and one of the most passionate speakers of the day—was Dominic Cardy, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development in New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government.
“There is a vacuum at the heart of Canadian politics. If we don’t fill it, we will lose our country,” Cardy said ominously in an essay that preceded this week’s conference.
The day’s discussion focused on several broad topics and panelists expounded on ideas such as the importance of economic growth, the value of fiscal discipline and the need to seriously address the global threats that lurk beyond. Canada’s borders. In his keynote address, Clark lamented that liberals and conservatives are divisive and exclusionary in their rhetoric.
(Moments later, in response to a question from the audience, Clark said that calls for Alberta sovereignty legislation were “crazy as mad”. So apparently it’s always okay to condemn certain things in outright terms.)
“We have a chance to change the cycle of divisive politics in this country and this meeting today, I think, is the start of that,” Clark said.
Is there a vacuum at the center of Canadian politics?
Grand appeals to centrism are often based on flimsy premises and false equivalences. Not all disputes are best resolved by choosing the midpoint between political left and political right. An equal compromise is not always possible or preferable. The happy medium between two opposing points of view is not intrinsically more logical. Sometimes choices have to be made and sometimes making people unhappy is unavoidable.
But corrosive extremism and unnecessary divisions are worth exposing. And it’s not wrong to wish for politics to be more serious, more thoughtful, or more rational — which seemed to be the undercurrent of much of Thursday’s discussion.
It’s also not hard to see why moderate conservatives might feel the desire to speak out right now — and see a potential opportunity to do so. Under Pierre Poiliev, the Conservative Party would have move further to the populist right. Under Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party is more to the left politically than it was when Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin led it (although the extent to which the party has moved to the left is sometimes greatly exaggerated).
But how would moderate conservatives actually fill the space that might now exist between the parties of Poilievre and Trudeau?
Toward the end of Thursday’s rally, Peterson made a point of stressing that his group is not affiliated with the federal Conservative Party. “We’re talking about bringing together ideas and people that could have an effect on any political party or anyone running for political office,” he said.
So perhaps the conservatives at Center Ice could become a Progressive Conservative answer to the Canada Strong and Free Network, which was originally founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. Perhaps this would allow moderates to exert a small influence on the program of a Poilievre government – or prepare for a future post-Poilievre leadership race.
Why not a new party?
At the start of the one-day conference, Peterson was also adamant that he was not interested in creating a new political party. “Believe me, no one here wants to do that. Who wants to set up 338 EDA?” Peterson said, referring to riding associations. “That’s worse than 338 root canals.”
It is certain that the creation of a new national political party would be neither easy nor painless. But — to extend the hockey analogy — it’s hard to score goals if you’re sitting on the bench.
Would a new Conservative party risk splitting the vote on the political right, as happened when the Liberal Party won majorities in 1993, 1997 and 2000? Maybe. But if there really are moderate conservatives who are seriously concerned about the direction of the Conservative Party, they may have to make tough decisions in the near future about what they are prepared to do to address it.
A new centre-right party might also not simply split the vote. He could hope to win enough seats to maintain the balance of power in a minority parliament, an outcome that would give moderate Tories a chance to wield real influence over a government’s agenda – similar to what the NDP is doing now. and has done in the past. In the long term, a new centre-right party could also hope to have the kind of influence that the Reform Party had on the reconstituted Conservative Party that reformed in 2003. Or it could simply influence the future direction of the party. conservative. , as the People’s Party seems to be doing now.
Perhaps the Center Ice curators are not the group leading such an effort. But if they’ve pinpointed a real problem, it may take more than roundtables and editorials to address it.