Oil is dead. Or so says Green leader Elizabeth May. Federal Conservatives are split on punishing one of their own for gaslighting Canada’s chief public health officer; the motivating factor being crass political opportunism, not integrity.
Yup. COVID-19 is changing how we do things, and for a while because of it, the worst of political sniping disappeared. But with each passing day, partisanship awakens from hibernation whether Canadians are ready for a return to our old normal or not. Maybe that’s the post pandemic test: Will Canadians demand a higher level of public discourse from our elected and wannabe elected leaders?
For the most part the gradual return of politics on PEI runs counter to the federal reality where partisan, base pleasing rhetoric, is increasingly the norm. Island opposition parties are raising valid questions of public oversight and the need to recall the provincial legislature. The Dennis King government has responded with a plan for a short sitting later this month to formalize our response to COVID-19. A fuller session will take place in June.
It’s more a muddle in Ottawa. You could almost hear the shrieks of outrage from western Canada the moment Green leader Elizabeth May uttered her tone deaf, arrogant oil is dead comment during a virtual press conference. Since then, she has rightfully been criticized but perhaps for the wrong reasons. May did try to present a case that ‘bailing out big oil’ will threaten Canada’s capacity to rebound from COVID-19. Economists can debate the merits of that.
The outgoing federal Green leader knows the power of language. Oil is dead is not the language of a federal politician trying to rebuild provincial economies dependent on oil, or by extension, support the tens of thousands of Canadian families directly tied to the industry. It is the language of an ideologue crowing in apparent victory while hundreds of thousands are hurt because of it.
COVID-19 may ultimately be seen as a turning point for our economy, but oil is not dead just because the Green Party wishes it so. And it won’t be for a very long time. Canadian bitumen has far more industrial uses than run of the mill crude.
Rather than crow, federal Conservatives are just trying to get out of the current leadership contest and be seen as relevant. On paper the leadership battle is between Peter MacKay, who has run a mistake prone, tone deaf campaign lacking leadership and vision, and Erin O’Toole, positioning himself as the candidate of the Reform Party/Conservative base (among other things he’s promised to slash virtually all funding to CBC). Two also ran candidates, including Ontario MP Derek Sloan, could have a far greater impact on the final result than their support would suggest because of the ranked ballot system used by the party.
It’s this system that is making the federal Conservative Party appear weak, angry and a haven for extremist views. Exhibit A is Sloan and his not so subtle race baiting targeted at Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Theresa Tam.
The lack of a firm rebuke, from either the Conservative Party or its two primary leadership contenders, to Sloan’s attack is symptomatic of a party that just doesn’t get it. Ontario Tories want Sloan turfed from caucus. Western Tories want to keep him in the fold. Both sides are more interested in electability in the next federal election, not integrity in the political system. The preferred ballot gives Sloan far greater influence than his smarmy gaslighting attacks deserve.
The potentially ironic nature of this vote is Peter MacKay, who famously lied in writing to David Orchard to win the PC leadership only to jump in bed with Steven Harper’s Reform Party, must now strike another deal to win the Conservative leadership.
What type of appeasement will Peter MacKay offer western Reform Tories? Even if he succeeds there seems little interest in Canada returning to the mean-spirited, partisan, hard-right politics of Steven Harper.
Is there hope for the Tories? Maybe, but only if Tory leadership hopefuls find a backbone and push to eradicate extremism from the party they seek to lead. It doesn’t matter if it’s Liberal arrogance, Tory acceptance of a racist element or the Green’s holier than thou attitude. Politics, especially at the federal level, needs a good cleaning.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com