It has been many months since I’ve last posted on this site. That’s partly because I’ve been busy with other things. And a technical glitch caused the site to disappear for a while. 

But besides those practical matters there has been the state of the world. What is there to say, other than to bemoan the continued inaction in the face of climate change, destructive hurricanes, the embrace of nuclear blackmail by a supposedly civilized country and the rise of fascist-tinged populism in Canada and the Americas? 

The enormity of these existential questions has created a dilemma for the blogger. To misquote a notorious dawdler, the question has been whether to blog or not to blog? Is it nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous deceit or to take up arms via the keyboard against a sea of mendacity?

To settle the question by opting for the keyboard is not to promise fresh insight into our rising seas of environmental and political troubles. It is to reject the alternative course – letting the sleeping blog die. So with apologies for the preceding, it’s time to get back at it, in the hope that thinking and writing about our circumstances will provide some sense of control over the chaos.

Let’s start with the Canada’s Conservatives, including the ones in Atlantic Canada,  who are behaving more and more like a pale northern version of the truly awful U.S. Republican Party. The latest demonstration of  this trend is the election of Danielle Smith as Alberta Conservative leader and Premier. Her victory this past week over five others vying to replace Jason Kenney comes less than a month after Pierre Poilievre romped to victory in the federal Conservative leadership race.

Smith and Poilievre are cut from much the same cloth – campus Conservatives at the University of Calgary, adherents of the libertarian gospel professed by members of the so-called Calgary School. And both are skilled communicators with little experience outside of politics. 

The other thing they have in common is how they gained power by courting fringe elements on the right, bringing them into the Conservative fold to support their leadership campaigns. Admittedly there are  differences on issues like abortion and immigration between Poilievre, Smith and the Trumped-up Republican Party. And instead of repeating the Big Lie about a stolen election, Poilievre repeats one about a Liberal-NDP “Woke Coalition”. But there is a striking similarity in the way they have changed the power dynamic within the Conservative party, much as Trump has done with Republicans in the States.     

Poilievre the main concern

Of the two rabble rousers, Smith probably has less room to cater to the COVID deniers and quasi-separatists who put her into the Premier’s chair. She won by a narrow margin of less than eight points after four ballots and her ridiculous Sovereignty Act idea has been panned by most of her Conservative colleagues, including Kenney. She may yet achieve the improbable – making Canadians miss Jason Kenny – but for now will have her hands full just trying to stay in power.

(Speaking of Kenney, the promoter of the energy War Room and the equalization referendum seems to have mellowed recently. Here’s what he had to say recently when Global-TV asked him about his advice for Poilievre: “I think a Conservative party that is focused on a campaign of recrimination over COVID, politicizing science, entertaining conspiracy theories and campaigning with QAnon is a party that can’t form a government and shouldn’t.”) 

Poilievre is a different, more troubling story than Danielle Smith. His first ballot margin of victory over five contenders was huge, achieved despite promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories around the World Economic Forum, railing against vaccine mandates and carbon pricing and supporting the mob that besieged  and terrorized downtown Ottawa last winter. His main opponent, the self-identified  moderate candidate Jean Charest, attacked Poilievre’s support for the occupiers, making a direct appeal to law-abiding Tories. His crushing defeat demonstrated just how far today’s Conservatives have travelled into the jungle of right-wing populism.

It was predictable that Charest, as a former Mulroney cabinet minister and Liberal Premier of  Quebec, would have trouble getting votes from Conservatives in the West. But his poor showing against Poilievre in Atlantic Canada, where the Progressive Conservative banner is still flown at the provincial level, was an unpleasant surprise.     

“Progressive” no more? 

Poilievre won every one of the 32 ridings in Atlantic Canada, taking 28 of them with more than 60% of the vote. The four outliers were Halifax (51.8%), Dartmouth-Cole Harbour (58.6%), St. John’s East (58.9%) and Charlottetown (50.1%). But in 14 ridings in Atlantic Canada, Poilievre’s support was even higher than the 70.7% vote share he achieved across the country.

Charest’s best showing was in Halifax, where his 37.5% share represented the only district in the region in which he topped 30 per cent. More remarkable, in ten ridings Charest finished third behind Poilievre and the socially conservative convoy-friendly Leslyn Lewis.

Three of those  third-place finishes were in Nova Scotia ridings in which Charest’s support was at or near single digits – 8.7% in West Nova, 9.1% in Kings-Hants and 10.0% in Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook. South Shore-St. Margarets, a riding represented in Parliament by Charest’s campaign co-chair, Rick Perkins, gave only 17.1% of its votes to Charest, 69.1% to Poilievre.  Besieged Republicans like Liz Chaney come to mind.

A key narrative around the Poilievre landslide concerned the nearly 312,000 new members signed up by his campaign, the main factor in a huge increase in party membership over all. The number of new members signed up in Atlantic Canada has not been reported.  But if vote totals in 2022 compared with those cast in 2020 leadership race are an indicator, the increase in Poilevre-inspired membership growth in Atlantic Canada is significant. As the Table shows, the number of votes cast in 2022 was almost double the 2020 tally.

Province 2020 Votes 2022 Votes Increase
NS 5,590 8,630 54.4%
NB 1,001 1,794 79.2%
PEI 3,110 7,896 153.9%
NL 1,013 2,392 236.1%
Total 10,714 20,712 93.3%

The near-doubling of  votes in Atlantic Canada is below the national increase of about 140% but it is noteworthy that it occurred despite the absence of a regional favourite like Peter McKay. MacKay’s candidacy in 2020 likely boosted the numbers, particularly in Nova Scotia. Indeed, 10% of the total votes cast in Atlantic Canada in the 2020 leadership contest came from one riding, Central Nova, which MacKay represented for nearly two decades. 

This time Conservatives in Central Nova, which overlaps with a half dozen PC provincial districts, gave 67.8%  support to Poilievre. One of those provincial districts within the boundaries of Central Nova is represented by Premier Tim Houston who, once upon a time seemed to favour the “Progressive” part of the PC brand. He even took pains to put some daylight between the Nova Scotia party and some of its more radical elements. 

A couple of years ago Houston reprimanded Ontario MP Derek Sloan for sponsoring a petition in Parliament criticizing the approval process for COVID-19 vaccines as an exercise in “human experimentation.” In a newsletter to party members, Houston, then leader of Nova Scotia’s official opposition, called on party members to eschew such fear-mongering and conspiracy theories and “trust our Health Canada leaders and the science behind them.”

But that was then. Nowadays Houston is ignoring COVID warnings from health leaders,  embracing the federal Conservatives’ opposition to carbon pricing and accusing the media of making up stories. And with the anti-vaxxers and the conspiracy theorists in the ascendance in his own backyard we should not be surprised if the word “Progressive” grows even fainter on the Nova Scotia PC party’s banner.