Tim Houston, leader of a team that looks like what used to be called Red Tories, has stepped up to take on a tough task – putting daylight between his Progressive Conservative (PC) gang and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).

Earlier this week, the CBC reported on some of the contents of Houston’s email newsletter reprimanding federal MP Derek Sloan for his sponsorship in the House of Commons of an anti-vaxxer petition. The petition questions the approval process for COVID-19, asserting that “bypassing proper safety protocols means COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.”

Houston warned Nova Scotia’s PCs not to go there with Sloan. “Now is not the time to fear monger or float conspiracy theories,” he wrote. “Now is the time to trust our Health Canada leaders and the science behind them.”

Good for Houston, although based on Sloan’s last-place finish in the Conservative leadership race there’s no reason to think Sloan has much of a following in these parts, where on the topic of COVID-19 Doc Strang’s word is the law.

Just the start?

Perhaps this will turn out to be a one off. But if Houston is serious about reinforcing the PC brand – the one exemplified in the past by Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark and nowadays by the premier of Prince Edward Island – he has a job to do. Because in Ottawa, the CPC brand is creating a lot of racket.

Take conspiracy theories, for which, as Houston wrote “now is not the time.” If Houston wants to protect Nova Scotia PCs from being tainted by the federal branch, he may need to challenge the conspiracy theory being promoted by Pierre Polievre, the party’s long time finance critic and finance minister designate in the Conservative government in waiting.

Unlike Sloan, who could claim he was doing what a lot of MPs do when they table petitions they may not necessarily endorse, the pestilential Polievre has gone out of his way to associate himself with the trumped up fuss around the “Great Reset.”

That do-gooder initiative was co-launched by that noted revolutionary, Prince Charles, in conjunction with the World Economic Forum. It has been distorted and turned into a conspiracy by the likes of QAnon and Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media – and Polievre.

The Ottawa-area MP took to social media to drum up support and raise money by pointing out Justin Trudeau’s speech to the United Nations in September. In it, our sanctimonious PM noted, as many have, that the COVID-19 pandemic has “provided an opportunity for a reset.”

The reset – and bear in mind Trudeau was speaking to the UN – would mean “acceleration of efforts to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.”

One can imagine a fair bit of eye rolling in the audience given, among other failings, our record on international aid and climate change. But, of course, that wasn’t Polievre’s response.

Instead, he linked Trudeau to the “Great Reset” conspiracy “which would re-engineer economies and societies to empower the elites at the expense of the people.” He urged Canadians to join him in fighting back against “global elites preying on the fears and desperation of people to impose their power grab.”

Soros next

The Great Reset conspiracy was last week. This week it was George Soros in the spotlight. Mr. Soros is rich, Jewish and supports many of what used to be called liberal (small ‘l’) causes. The right wing government in his native Hungary hates him, as do many of the same elements pushing the reset conspiracy.

In some circles he’s as big and bad a name as Karl Marx, and one of those circles looks to be the CPC caucus in Ottawa. On Tuesday, during a question period exchange between Finance minister Krystia Freeland and the aforementioned Polievre, a certain CPC backbencher apparently hollered out “George Soros.”

The interjection was not recorded in Hansard, but was picked up by a Liberal member who outed Barrie Ontario MP John Brassard as the Soros blabbermouth, accusing him of being anti-Semitic. Brassard denied anti-Semitism, but in taking the Soros name in vain, he will have a harder time disclaiming that he has imbibed the “global elites” Kool-Aid that keeps getting passed around the CPC caucus room.

As that sort of behaviour shows, divorcing himself and the Nova Scotia PCs from the noise emanating from their Ottawa cousins could turn into a full-time job for Tim Houston, with little help to be expected from the federal party leader.

O’Toole’s weak response

Since his election in August Erin O’Toole has been talking about re-branding the Conservatives to appeal to a wider swath of voters. He has tried to downplay social conservatism and has even talked up the virtues of unions for workers in the private sector. But he has undermined those efforts by doing little or nothing to quiet the yahoos in his ranks.

He expressed only mild disagreement on the Sloan-sponsored petition, and blamed the Liberals for any public disquiet over vaccine safety. He has said he has no time for conspiracies like the “Great Reset,” but instead of calling out Polievre he has ventured into the same territory, recording a video accusing Trudeau of planning post-pandemic “risky experiments.”

O’Toole has also embraced some of the language of right-wing populism himself. The similarity between his leadership campaign slogan – Take Back Canada – and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” has been noted. In a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto O’Toole railed against “elites at every level: political elites, financial elites, cultural elites” for betraying “middle class Canada.” And in a recent House of Commons exchange with an NDP member he engaged in the kind of silly socialist bashing we’ve been hearing from Trump.

“The problem is…there are four parties on the extreme left of the political spectrum in Canada right now,” said O’Toole. “His declining party, the Liberal government, the Green Party and the Bloc are all on the far left. There is only one party in the centre, centre right. The others are on the radical left.”

Who knows? Maybe this kind of hard-edged populism will resonate with Nova Scotia voters. And O’Toole does have connections to Nova Scotia – he graduated from Dalhousie Law and his wife is from here. O’Toole and the federal Conservatives could turn out to be, if not assets, at least not major impediments to Nova Scotia PCs as the province heads into an election.

But if O’Toole doesn’t do something to prevent more of what used to be known as “bozo eruptions” from some of his MPs, Tim Houston may want to look for an Atlantic Bubble to keep the CPC from infecting the PC party of Nova Scotia.