Conservatives must reject Trumpism and address voter anger rather than stoking it, says strategist

Longtime Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool says he will no longer tolerate “casual Trumpism” in his personal or political life, and wants to see it stamped out of Canadian politics.

“In the past, some people said: ‘Oh, isn’t what Trump’s doing good’— and I would always say, ‘Well, Trump’s a horrible man,'” said Boessenkool, senior research fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and a former senior campaign advisor to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

“And they’re like, ‘Well, yeah, he’s a horrible man, but what he’s doing is good, so I’m glad he’s there.'”

Boessenkool told The Current’s Matt Galloway that he would usually “just stop talking” and let the matter drop, but that he’s “not going to do that anymore.”

“I’m going to say, ‘Look, Trump is a bad man, he’s an evil man, and he did evil things and he tried to overthrow the government in order to try and steal an election,'” he said.

“I’m going to go one step further and say what you believe is unacceptable.”

U.S. President Donald Trump faces impeachment proceedings over accusations he incited the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, following his baseless claims of fraud in the Nov. 3 election.

In the wake of the violence, Boessenkool wrote an opinion piece warning that the Trump-style populism that has “infected” U.S. politics poses a threat to Canada as well. 

He urged his peers in the Conservative Party to “find policy solutions that speak to [voters], as opposed to stoking their anger.” 

WATCH | Conservative Senate leader Don Plett endorses Trump, Republican senators while speaking in the Canadian Senate chambers:

Sen. Don Plett endorsed U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican senators yesterday while speaking in the Canadian Senate chambers. 0:32

O’Toole trying to keep ‘the tent happy’

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole issued a statement condemning the U.S. Capitol violence last week, but Globe and Mail reporter Kelly Cryderman says he has to “walk a very careful walk in doing so.”

“The problem is there are people in his party who support Trump, and … he doesn’t want to completely alienate them,” she said.

Cryderman said it’s a problem for the party to be associated with Trumpism, at a time when global opinion of the outgoing U.S. president may be at an all-time low.

“They must know they need to do everything possible to get rid of the idea that they’re associated with it,” she said.

She also pointed to O’Toole’s slogan during his leadership campaign: “Take Back Canada.”

“It sounds like it could have come from the Republican politics that is happening in the United States,” she said.

Charelle Evelyn, managing editor at The Hill Times, said that in recent months O’Toole has tried to keep “all areas of the tent happy, and keeping the base secure,” while simultaneously trying to reach out beyond the party base.

“You can’t [be] crying about the radical left, and the woke mob, and cancel culture … [while also] not saying anything about specifically white supremacy … or specifically acknowledging the fact that systemic racism exists,” she said.

In a September interview with CTV, O’Toole sidestepped a question about systemic racism in Canada, saying some police believed the term unfairly paints all police officers as racist.

The Current invited O’Toole to take part in an interview, but he was not available.

Deputy leader pictured in MAGA hat

Deputy Conservative leader Candice Bergen has also come under scrutiny following the U.S. Capitol riot, when an undated photo emerged online of her wearing a Make America Great Again hat.

Bergen issued a statement saying she condemned the violence at the U.S. Capitol, but did not answer questions about when the image was taken.

A photo of Conservative MP Candice Bergen wearing a MAGA hat has been circulating online. (Source unknown)

Boessenkool said Bergen is a close friend who deserved a second chance, but that “if Candice put on a MAGA hat today, I would be extremely dismissive and extremely upset.”

The party also faced criticism last week for a fundraising page on its website, which claimed “Justin Trudeau is rigging the election in his favour.”

Critics drew parallels between the allegation against Trudeau, and Trump’s baseless accusations that the U.S. presidential election was rigged.

The page, which dates back to July 2019, was removed, but can be viewed in an online archive not affiliated with the Conservative Party.

“I don’t think ‘rig the election’ was particularly helpful or good language,” Boessenkool said.

He said the page was in reaction to electoral reforms around campaign spending that critics said gave the Liberals an advantage over opposition parties.

“I’m not excusing that kind of language, but I think it’s very different.”

Boessenkool said that Conservatives should be working to understand the challenges driving anger among voters, and “do things to address that in policy terms, not in conspiracy terms.”

“I don’t want these people to leave our party,” he said.

“I just want us to find a conservative solution to address the underlying concerns as opposed to using anger, to make them mad, to get them to vote for us.” 

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Jennifer Keene, Rachel Levy-McLaughlin and Paul MacInnis.

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