Model, Politics, Quick Fix

The Awkward Dynamics of the Conservative Leadership Debates

Tanya Granic Allen is the most idealistic candidate I’ve ever seen take the stage in a Canadian political debate. This presents some awkward challenges for the candidates facing her, especially Mulroney and Elliot.

First, there’s the simple fact of her idealism. I think Granic Allen genuinely believes everything she says. For her, knowing what’s right and what’s wrong is simple. There isn’t a whole lot of grey. She even (bless her) probably believes that this will be an advantage come election time. People overwhelming don’t like the equivocation of politicians, so Granic Allen must assume her unequivocal moral stances will be a welcome change

For many people, it must be. Even for those who find it grating, it seems almost vulgar to attack her. It’s clear that she isn’t in this for herself and doesn’t really care about personal power. Whether she could maintain that innocence in the face of the very real need to make political compromises remains an open question, but for now she does represent a certain vein of ideological conservatism in a form that is unsullied by concerns around electability.

The problem here is that the stuff Granic Allen is pushing – “conscience rights” and “parental choice” – is exactly the sort of thing that can mobilize opposition to the PC party. Fighting against sex-ed and abortion might play well with the base, but Elliot and Mulroney know that unbridled social conservatism is one of the few things that can force the province’s small-l liberals to hold their noses and vote for the big-L Liberal Party. In an election where we can expect embarrassingly low turnout (it was 52% in 2014), this can play a major role.

A less idealistic candidate would temper themselves to help the party in the election. Granic Allen has no interest in doing this, which basically forces the pragmatists to navigate the tricky act of distancing themselves from her popular (with the base) proposals so that they might carry the general election.

Second, there’s the difficult interaction between the anti-rational and anti-empirical “common sense” conservatism pushed by Granic Allen and Ford and the pragmatic, informed conservatism of Elliot and Mulroney.

For Ford and Granic Allen, there’s a moral nature to truth. They live in a just world where something being good is enough to make it true. Mulroney and Elliot know that reality has an anti-partisan bias.

Take clean energy contracts. Elliot quite correctly pointed out that ripping up contracts willy-nilly will lead to a terrible business climate in Ontario. This is the sort of suggestion we normally see from the hard left (and have seen in practice in places the hard left idolizes, like Venezuela). But Granic Allen is committed to a certain vision of the world and in her vision of the world, government getting out of the way can’t help but be good.

Christine Elliot has (and this is a credit to her) shown that she’s not very ideological, in that she can learn how the world really works and subordinate ideology to truth, even when inconvenient. This would make her a more effective premier than either Granic Allen or Ford, but might hurt her in the leadership race. I’ve seen her freeze a couple times when she’s faced with defending how the world really works to an audience that is ideologically prevented from acknowledging the truth.

(See for example, the look on her face when she was forced to defend her vote to ban conversion therapy. Elliot’s real defense of that bill probably involves phrases like “stuck in the past”, “ignorant quacks” and “vulnerable children who need to be protected from people like you”. But she knew that a full-throated defense of gender dysphoria as a legitimate problem wouldn’t win her any votes in this race.)

As Joseph Heath has pointed out, this tension between reality and ideology is responsible for the underrepresentation of modern conservatives among academics. Since the purpose of the academy is (broadly) truth-seeking, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it select against an ideology that explicitly rejects not only the veracity of much of the products of this truth seeking (see, for example, Granic Allen’s inability to clearly state that humans are causing climate change) but the worthwhileness of the whole endeavour of truth seeking.

When everything is trivially knowable via the proper application of “common-sense”, there’s no point in thinking deeply. There’s no point in experts. You just figure out what’s right and you do it. Anything else just confuses the matter and leaves the “little guy” to get shafted by the elites.

Third, the carbon tax has produced a stark, unvoiced split between the candidates. On paper, all are opposing it. In reality, only Ford and Granic Allen seriously believe they have any chance at stopping it. I’m fairly sure that Elliot and Mulroney plan to mount a token opposition, then quickly fold when they’re reminded that raising taxes and giving money to provinces is a thing the Federal Government is allowed to do. This means that they’re counting on money from the carbon tax to balance their budget proposals. They can’t say this, because Ford and Granic Allen are forcing them to the right here, but I would bet that they’re privately using it to reassure fiscally conservative donors about the deficit.

Being unable to discuss what is actually the centrepiece of their financial plans leaves Elliot and Mulroney unable to give very good information about how they plan to balance the budget. They have to fall back on empty phrases like “line by line by line audit” and “efficiencies”, because anything else feels like political suicide.

This shows just how effective Granic Allen has been at being a voice for the grassroots. By staking out positions that resonate with the base, she’s forcing other leadership contestants to endorse them or risk losing to her. Note especially how she’s been extracting promises from Elliot and Mulroney whenever possible – normally around things she knows they don’t want to agree to but that play well with the base. By doing this, she hopes to remove much of their room to maneuver in the general election and prevent any big pivot to centre.

Whether this will work really depends on how costly politicians find breaking promises. Conventional wisdom holds that they aren’t particularly bothered by it. I wonder if Granic Allen’s idealism blinds her to this fact. I’m certainly sure that she wouldn’t break a promise except under the greatest duress.

On the left, it’s very common to see a view of politics that emphasizes pure and moral people. The problem with the system, says the communist, is that we let greedy people run it. If we just replaced them all with better people, we’d get a fair society. Granic Allen is certainly no communist. But she does seem to believe in the “just need good people” theory of government – and whether she wins or loses, she’s determined to bring all the other candidates with her.

This isn’t an incrementalist approach, which is why it feels so foreign to people like me. Granic Allen seems to be making the decision that she’d rather the Conservatives lose (again!) to the Liberals than that they win without a firm commitment to do things differently.

The conflict in the Ontario Conservative party ­– the conflict that was surfaced when his rivals torpedoed Patrick Brown – is around how far the party is willing to go to win. The Ontario Conservatives aren’t the first party to go through this. When UK Labour members picked Jeremy Corbyn, they clearly threw electability behind ideological purity.

In the Ontario PC party, Allen and Ford have clearly staked out a position emphasizing purity. Mulroney and Elliot have just as clearly chosen to emphasize success. Now it’s up to the members. I’m very interested to see what they decide.

Model, Politics, Quick Fix

Some thoughts on Canadian “family values” conservatives

I’d like to expand on one of the points I raised yesterday about Canadian social conservatives and the sorts of things they can expect from Andrew Scheer, because I think the Canadian approach to “family values” conservatism is desperately under-theorized.

Yesterday I claimed that the main way that Harper pushed so-called family values was through economic incentives to have a 1950s-style nuclear family. Both income splitting and the Universal Child Care Benefit were designed to make it more feasible to have a single income family.

This is a radically different tack than taken by American family values candidates, who primarily exercise their beliefs by banning sex education, fighting against gay marriage and adoption, and restricting access to abortion [1]. The American approach attempts to close off all alternatives but a heterosexual, monogamous, child-producing marriage. The Canadian approach is to bribe people into this (and to drop the heterosexual part).

The cynical explanation for the policies pushed by Harper is that they represent a tax break for the favoured constituencies of the Conservatives. But this strikes me both as deeply uncharitable and uncorroborated by statements made by members of the Conservative Party.

At the Conservative Leadership Convention, the party devoted as much time to thanking J.P. Veitch (Rona Ambrose’s fiancé) as they did to thanking Rona Ambrose. They thanked J.P. for putting Rona’s career aspirations above his own and for his tireless support of her in her role as interim party leader.

Can you imagine the Liberals taking the time to thank Sophie Grégoire Trudeau for her work supporting her husband? The liberal individualistic notion of liberation tends to gloss over and thereby systemically devalue the work that supportive spouses do. To liberals (even many socialist liberals), work is where people go for self-actualization. Self-actualization can’t exist in the home.

There are sound reasons for this emphasis. While the Conservative tax breaks are gender neutral (and apply even to gay marriages), no one believes that the majority of stay at home spouses will be men. There certainly won’t be no men staying home – I consider myself generally more likely to stay home with kids than any partner I’m plausibly going to have – but they’ll be a minority.

As a free choice, the home is a reasonable option for many people. But as a prescribed social role, being stay-at-home mothers made many women incredibly miserable. Emancipation through work as the default seems to me as a not-unreasonable reaction to this trauma. But conservatives have ideological reasons to oppose the social structures that make dual-income families possible.

In Rona Ambrose’s farewell speech, she clearly articulated the core disagreement between Canadian liberals and conservatives. “Liberals believe in government”, she said, “but we believe in people”. I’d rephrase this slightly – liberals believe in institutions, while conservatives believe in individuals.

Viewed through this lens, it makes sense that Conservatives wish to return child-rearing to the sphere of the domestic. Key policies planks of Canadian leftists – like all day Kindergarten and $15 a day daycare – instead seek to further remove child-rearing from individual parents and move it into a formalized institutional system.

Both of these approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. It is beginning to look like starting school early may lead to inattention and hyperactivity. If daycare is like school, then proposals like $15 a day daycare have the potential to be incredibly damaging. With income splitting and child tax benefits, we could be encouraging parents to delay formal schooling, thereby avoiding the negative consequences associated with an early school start.

On the other hand, it’s uncommon, even with income splitting and child tax benefits, for one spouse to have an income that could plausibly support their entire family. $15 dollar a day daycare would be a boon to low-income families that are caught in the dual-income trap.

There’s no prescription here. I think some parts of the family values platform threaten to turn back important progress. I think other parts hint at a potential for better outcomes than we currently have. I will point out that it seems almost as if Canadian conservatives listened to liberals who pointed out that if they really cared about reducing abortion rates, they’d cover prenatal healthcare, maternity leave, and make it less expensive to raise a child.

I’d much rather have a political conversation about the amount of tax benefits we should give to people with children than I would about women’s right to choose, so I can’t help but be thankful that the Canadian Overton window is what it is. With Andrew Scheer elected as conservative leader and signalling no intention to wade into the debate over abortion, I think we really can call the Overton Window settled in its current configuration [2]. This leaves all Canadians with a question. How much do you think the government should subsidize nuclear families?

I’m not yet sure of the answer myself.


[1] I want to be clear that I’m talking about execution here, not beliefs. Canadian social conservatives believe many of the same things as American so-cons and vote remarkably similarly to their American counterparts when they’re in opposition. The key difference is how they behave when they’re in power. Nine years of Conservative governments (four of which saw the Conservatives as the majority party) brought no change in the legal status of gay rights or abortion in Canada. That would be unprecedented in America.  ^

[2] On Facebook, I said: “If the trend is that Liberals/NDP push [our] social policies of choice and the Cons don’t roll them back, then we still win in the long run.” I stand by that statement. I would prefer that Conservatives were as enthusiastic about pushing for positive social change as I am. Given that I don’t live in that world, I’ll settle for one where conservative politicians don’t to push back.  ^


Five Things I Learned from the Conservative Leadership Race (that all Canadians should take note of)

Yesterday generic conservative Andrew Scheer was crowned leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in a nail-biting 14 ballot process. His margin of victory over the libertarian Maxime Bernier was less than 2%.

Reuters managed to get pretty much everything about this story subtly wrong, from the number of votes political observers expected – by the final week, most of us remembered that there were so many low support candidates that it would probably go to the very final ballot – to Scheer’s position in the party. Reuters has Scheer pegged as a social conservative, whereas people watching the race were much more likely to describe him as the compromise candidate.

The Conservative Leadership race was one of the high points of my engagement in Canadian politics. I haven’t been this engaged since the 2011 election (I was out of country for the 2015 election which limited my involvement to mailing in a ballot). Focusing so closely on this leadership race, I’ve was surprised (although I probably shouldn’t have been) by just how much politics goes on under the surface and just how little actually filters up through the media.

Sometimes the things that don’t filter up are silly. The media never really mentioned that Steven Blaney sent out an email with the subject line: “Should Allah kill all the Jews?”. This is understandable; Blaney never was a serious contender for the leadership and his ridiculous emails would have been a distraction. Many in the media also underestimated the number of votes for Erin O’Toole that would transfer to Andrew Scheer once O’Toole was eliminated. This was a harder mistake to make when you were getting emails from every candidate; from the emails that O’Toole and Scheer were sending me, it was obvious that their internal polling had picked up on this correlation. Paying attention to things like this are what let me correctly predict Andrew Scheer would win.

With this in mind, I’d like to report some the things I learned watching this race and this convention. These are things that may or may not be reported, but I think they are deeply important for understanding Canadian politics going forward.

1. No one knows what to do with ranked ballots

In my last post on the leadership, I guessed that the race would last a few ballots. This was a very silly prediction to make, because it was obvious who the first six candidates to be eliminated would be. It was also obvious that together they had less than 5% of the total support. For the convention to be over after that few ballots, the front runner would have to have more than 45% support. Polling clearly showed Bernier (the front-runner for most of the race) at only 30%, so there was no way that the thing could have been decided that quickly.

I wasn’t the only one who made this error. The Conservative Party forecasted we’d have final results around 6:00PM. Final results weren’t available until around 8:15PM. Some of this was attributable to a forty-five-minute delay caused by technical issues, but most of this was because the thing went to the very last ballot.

The intuition that the leadership race should be decided in a few rounds comes from party conventions that use delegates. The last two contested Canadian conventions with delegates both went to four ballots. But a mail in instant run-off system is very different from delegate convention. There is little opportunity to gather momentum and no opportunity for politicians to blink. In a delegate convention, Scheer could have panicked in the 11th round and conceded to Bernier in exchange for some cabinet position. The mail in ranked ballots gave him no such option.

Ranked ballots differ even more significantly from the American system of sequential primary elections. Primaries suffer from the standard problem of first past the post systems; you often only need a plurality to win. This benefits the front runner, especially when “the establishment” can’t coalesce around a single candidate. Ranked ballots give the establishment no choice but to eventually coalesce. If the Republican primary had been decided by mail-in ranked ballots, it seems very likely that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz would have won instead of Trump.

In addition to talking heads used to other systems, ranked ballots also present a challenge to pollsters, who are used to asking people merely for the name of the candidate they most support. Even the polls that asked for multiple preferences rarely asked for preferences beyond third place. This can fall apart at the end of the convention when votes may have been transferred four or five times (e.g. from Raitt, to Chong, to O’Toole, to Scheer) or have skipped over some of the preferences (e.g. votes from Chong supporters who put Raitt second, O’Toole third, and Scheer fourth and saw their votes ultimately transferred to Scheer).

Kevin O’Leary claimed in the live convention coverage that he and Bernier had polled all the way down to the 10th choice (at ruinous expense). If this is true (and with Kevin, who knows), it’s likely that some of the other top fundraisers did this as well. That’s why I highlighted candidate’s emails as a vital tool for understanding the race. From their exhortations, I could often get an idea of the information they were going on.

If public polling can’t adapt to ranked ballots, then it will probably become necessary (for anyone who wants to correctly predict an election outcome) to spend more time reading the messages campaigns send to supporters to try and indirectly get high quality proprietary polling numbers. Unfortunately, reading emails and trying to figure out the information that went into them is much more of a black art than polling and it’s much harder to justify the information that comes out of it.

2. Canadian Conservatives aren’t Republicans

In Rona Ambrose’s farewell speech, she presented a narrative of Conservatives as defenders of the rights of women and girls. She pointed out that that first woman to serve in a cabinet was a member of the Conservative Party. She pointed out that the first (and only) female prime minister of Canada was a Conservative. She also talked about her work at the UN pushing for an International Day of the Girl and her work pressuring the government to admit Yazidi refugees fleeing religious persecution and sexual slavery at the hands of ISIL. When she mentioned that she’d forced the government to admit more refugees, she was given a rousing round of applause.

The stigma that sexual assault survivors face and the disgustingly high rate of sexual assault cases that are labelled unfounded were the focus of one section of one of the campaign debates. Luckily, there was basically no debate among the candidates on this issue. All of them pledged to improve police education and work to reduce the “unfounded rate”.

If you follow American politics, you might be surprised by things like this from a conservative party.

Canada and America are geographically and culturally proximate. It’s easy to pretend that the differences between the two countries are largely cosmetic. But when you do, you’re liable to get bitten in the ass by the iceberg of hidden differences.

Canadian conservatism is different than American conservatism. In the Conservative Party of Canada, you’ll get more votes calling for a carbon tax than you will if you call for increased screening of immigrants. Can you imagine that being true in America?

I don’t mean to claim that xenophobia and racism don’t exist in the Conservative Party of Canada. Kellie Leitch did get 9% of the vote. But for now, the xenophobic wing of the party is perhaps the least powerful part of the Canadian conservative coalition.

3. Social Conservatism is (kind of) alive and well

Unlike the xenophobic candidates, who did much worse than anyone feared, the social conservative candidates ran significantly ahead of expectations. Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost had combined polling numbers of 9.5% right before the election. In the first round of voting, many of us were surprised to see that their actual support was a combined 15.7%. When Trost was eliminated in the 11th ballot, he had 14.3% of the remaining support (evidence that almost all of Lemieux’s voters went to him).

A year ago, the Conservatives voted to remove any policy on the definition of marriage from their platform. Social conservatives were outraged but impotent. Their higher than expected support for Trost and Lemieux was their way of reminding the party that they exist.

Unfortunately for those members, social conservative policies are a delicate topic in Canadian politics. The Harper doctrine was to avoid the risky issues (like gay marriage and abortion) that risked undermining his chances of winning elections, while cautiously advancing policies that supported two-parent nuclear families (even the gay ones).

At the start of this leadership race, when Andrew Scheer was asked about his views on gay marriage, his answer was all pragmatism. While he is personally against gay marriage, he said “I don’t think you’d find any legitimate Conservative leadership aspirant who would revisit that issue”. His position on abortion is similar.

In his victory speech, Scheer obliquely referenced these views. “There’s… some issues that will divide our caucus and divide our movement and that [don’t] enjoy widespread support in the general public, but there are other areas… that the entire conservative movement can get behind.”

Taken together, all of this signals that the Harper doctrine is alive and well. Social conservatives won’t be getting action on abortion or gay marriage but they can expect Scheer to do his best to strengthen what they consider a traditional family structure. If Scheer is prime minister, expect to see policies like income splitting that blatantly favour married couples, especially couples where one parents stays home with children.

Bernier wasn’t willing to provide even this, which is probably why social conservatives broke for Scheer in the end, giving him the victory. Social conservatives ultimately didn’t get everything they wanted, but it seems like they managed to get the best of their realistic options.

4. Caucus Support

Had Bernier won, I think his leadership would have looked a lot like Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK Labour Party. Both men have excessive amounts of ideological purity and a limited amount of support among the MPs of their party. This has made trying to control his party difficult for Corbyn and I see no reason why Bernier would have had an easier time of it.

Andrew Scheer is much more in the mold of Teresa May or Steven Harper. He has very strong support in the caucus; he was second only to Erin O’Toole in endorsements and is so similar to O’Toole on most issues that he should have no problem picking up O’Toole’s support.

The line “there’s been a rising tide of anti-establishment sentiment in recent elections” has become cliché. Everyone has heard a dozen times about how Brexit, Trump, and the French election prove that people are fed up with the political establishment.

Well, just as Canada was supposedly immune to the “rising tide of illiberalism”, we appear to be immune (for now) to the “rising tide of anti-establishment sentiment”. Andrew Scheer was very much of the political establishment. None of his policies represent a break with the policies of the Harper years.

This bodes well for Scheer’s ability to actually get shit done (and therefore poorly for the Liberals). Scheer understands how parliament works. He understands how the conservative caucus thinks. He’s young and energetic. He will hit the ground running and won’t complain to the media in six months that the job was much harder than he thought it would be.

Some of the above would have been true for Leitch or Bernier. None of it would have been true for O’Leary. Only time will tell if is better to be effective at managing a political party than it is to be “not a politician” or to have a clear ideology.

5. The Conservative Party of Canada is still Harper’s party

Steven Harper has been almost entirely absent from Canadian politics since his election defeat in 2015. It’s a startling change for the man who was the Conservative Party of Canada. For all of his flaws (and he has many), Harper was an ambitious and driven leader who decided on a goal and then moved heaven and earth to make it happen. He engineered the merger between the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Reform Party, won control of the resulting party, and then led it into five elections. In four of those elections, the party came out better than it went in.

In the Harper years, even cabinet seemed to be a mere extension of the Prime Minister’s will. The discipline with which cabinet ministers stuck to their script was occasionally farcical, like when Paul Calandra answered a question about Iraq with prepared remarks about an NDP fundraiser’s statements about Israel.

Maxime Bernier would have represented a break with the Harper legacy. He’s a committed libertarian with many policy proposals that differ from the sort of thing Harper would endorse, chief among them his pledge to scrap the Canada Health Act and end transfer payments to the provinces for healthcare.

Ideologically, Harper probably agrees with scrapping the CHA. But Harper was ever the ruthless pragmatist, always subordinating his personal ideology to the demands of getting elected. He wouldn’t have touched the widely popular CHA with a ten-foot poll.

Based on Scheer’s responses to questions about abortion and gay marriage, I can’t see him governing substantially differently than Harper. The Conservative party will continue Harper’s legacy of slowly and incrementally dismantling the Canadian welfare state, while avoiding nearly all contentious topics. With Scheer, Harper is effectively controlling the party from beyond the political grave.

I think I narrowly prefer Scheer to Bernier. Bernier seems unelectable, but if he were to win it would be an absolute disaster for the Canadians and provinces who rely on the Federal government for assistance. Scheer is probably more electable, but much more incrementalist. He represents a creeping threat to the welfare state, rather than an immediately existential threat.

I joined the Conservative Party to influence their leadership race away from high variance candidates, even those candidates who I thought would be safely defeated in the general election. Last year’s election in America taught me I couldn’t put my faith in certain candidates being “doomed outside the primaries”.

I’d have preferred Chong. But I think I can live with Harper era policies repackaged with a smile.

Falsifiable, Politics, Quick Fix

May CPC Leadership Race Update

A friend asked me what I thought about the candidates in the leadership race for the Conservative Party of Canada. I found I had more to say than was strictly reasonable to post in a Facebook comment. I posted it anyway – because I’m sometimes unreasonable – but I found I also wanted to record my thoughts in a more organized manner that’s easier to link to.

Right now, I think there are a few meaningful ways to split up the candidates. You can split them up based on what block of the party they represent.

The way I see it, you have:

  • Michael Chong representing the wonkish Progressive Conservatives
  • Maxine Bernier and Rick Peterson representing the wonkish libertarians
  • Steven Blaney and Dr. Kellie Leitch with a more nativist message
  • Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, and Erin O’Toole running as unobjectionable compromise candidates
  • Andrew Saxton and Chris Alexander running as clones of Steven Harper
  • Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost running as social conservatives
  • Deepak Obhrai running against xenophobia

It might be possible to collapse these categories a bit; unobjectionable compromise candidates and Harper clones don’t have that much difference between them, for example. But I think I’m clustering based on salient differences in what the candidates are choosing to highlight, even when their policy positions or voting records are very similar.

I’ve also been clustering based on ability to win the thing. Here I think there are two clear groups: the haves, and the have-nots. In no particular order, the haves are: Chong, Bernier, Leitch, Raitt, Scheer, and O’Toole. The have-nots are everyone else. I’d give 20:1 odds against any of the have-nots winning.

There are a few things I can infer about the haves based on all the emails I’ve been getting from them.

Chong (polling at 4% in the first round) is hoping that he signed up enough people and is enough people’s second/third/nth choice to win. That currently feels pretty unlikely, but we’ll see. I’d bet on Chong at 12:1 odds.

Raitt (5%), O’Toole (11%), and Scheer (22%) are fighting viciously for the post of compromise candidate, with varying degrees of poll and debate success (Raitt has done much better in debates than her polling suggests). Given the bitter divisions in the party, I personally think the race will go to one of these three on the third or fourth ballot, but I’m low confidence here. More emails in the past few days have attacked Scheer, so between that and his poll numbers, he’s the one I think most likely to win. I’d bet on Scheer at 3:1 odds, O’Toole at 10:1 odds, and Raitt at 12:1 odds.

Bernier (31%) is the current front runner, but I personally expect him to have a lot of trouble picking up subsequent round votes, even with O’Leary’s endorsement. I really wish there was more polling of second and third round intentions in this thing. Without those data, I’m going to put Bernier as second most likely to win, with betting odds of 4:1. I would very quickly change my tune if I saw any evidence he had strong support in the latter rounds.

Leitch (8%) has her own very dedicated cadre of um, “very patriotic” (read: virulently xenophobic) supporters. She also has a lot of people who hate her. Is that >50% of the party? I’m not sure. From her last email (where she urged everyone to consider at least ranking her), I think her internal polling is showing that it isn’t. Reading between the lines, I think her campaign thinks she won’t pick up many 2nd or 3rd votes but that she might have staying power into the late rounds. It seems like her strategy is to win on the 7th, 8th, 9th, or even 10th ballot after everyone else is exhausted. For this reason, I’d recommend she be left entirely off the ballots of anyone who joined the party to pick good candidates. I’d even at this point recommend leaving Bernier on the ballot as a last-ditch Leitch stopper. I do think Leitch is suffering from losing all that free air time to O’Leary and from the loss of her campaign manager a few months ago. He seemed to be able to reliably get her in the news in a way that her new campaign manager has been unable to replicate. I’d take Leitch at 10:1 odds.

Given all this I’d order the candidates from most to least likely to win thusly: Scheer, Bernier, O’Toole, Leitch, Chong, Raitt.

I diverge slightly from the polls of first round intentions because:

  • I think Bernier lacks second and third round support in a serious way. I especially expect him to suffer in rural ridings, where I’m given to understand supply management is popular.
  • I have Raitt below Chong because I think she is the weakest member of her bloc. If someone else in her bloc isn’t winning, I think it would signal a serious weakness in the bloc itself, such that she shouldn’t be in a position to be beating anyone.

When it comes to my personal ballot, I plan to rank nine candidates in the following order: Chong, Raitt, O’Toole, Scheer, Obhrai, Bernier, Saxton, Alexander, Peterson. I’m ranking each candidate based on their respect for the environment, their votes on Bill C-279 (protecting gender identity) and the Woodworth Committee (redefining when life starts), any relevant experience they have in politics or adjacent fields, the tone they’ve struck, their overall level of wonkishness, how much policy information they have on their websites, and their level of bilingualism

I’ve sprinkled this post with betting odds. I’m willing to risk up to $100 on bets about have-not candidates winning and $100 on bets about the other candidates. The only requirements I have for betting are that you must have access to Interac or PayPal (for fund transfers) and you must be willing to post publicly that you’re betting with me (preferably including the odds you’d have put on the event we’re betting on). I’ll add details about any takers in the comments of this post.


Nick Kouvalis is Full of Shit

Note: A previous version of this post referred to Kellie Leitch as “Ms. Leitch” instead of “Dr. Leitch”. I don’t know how I forgot she was a doctor, but I’m deeply sorry that I did. 

Nick Kouvalis (campaign manager for Canada’s cheap knock off demagogue, Kellie Leitch) bragged in Macleans [1] about how he’s deliberately spreading “fake news” on Twitter to help him identify liberals who are joining the Conservative party to vote against Kellie Leitch.

“We call it Operation Flytrap,” Kouvalis says. “We did it knowing that people who aren’t real Conservatives can’t help themselves, so they post something negative about me, or Kellie. Some of them use real names. We find out who they are, and check them against the membership list. I’m going to challenge as many as I can.”

But there are further layers of dishonesty going on here. Note that Mr. Kouvalis is looking merely for comments directed against himself or Dr. Leitch. From these, he wants to gather a list of people who (he suspects but probably can’t prove) joined the Conservative Party just to vote against Dr. Leitch.

He faces one major roadblock in this scheme: this isn’t against the rules.

If you look at the constitution of the CPC, you’ll see that to join it you must be 14, you must pay a membership fee, and you must agree with the 22 guiding principles of the CPC.

Lest you assume the principles are a potential stumbling block, I’ve included some representative examples here:

  • A belief in a balance between fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities.
  • A belief in the equality of all Canadians.
  • A belief in our constitutional monarchy, the institutions of Parliament and the democratic process
  • A belief that English and French have equality of status, and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.
  • A belief that it is the responsibility of individuals to provide for themselves, their families and their dependents, while recognizing that government must respond to those who require assistance and compassion.

These aren’t exactly controversial pronouncements. You’d find broad support for almost all of the principles espoused in the CPC constitution, even among the 60% of voters who don’t regularly vote for the Tories.

Mr. Kouvalis is pulling a bait and switch. He’s amassed a list of people who want to vote against Kellie Leitch. But that isn’t a disqualifying factor in this leadership race. Any dragnet that gathers up everyone who can’t stand Kellie Leitch won’t just catch liberals joining to try and stop her. It will also catch diehard supporters of Deepak Obhrai, or Michael Chong, two leadership candidates who have been relentless in their criticism of Dr. Leitch.

I suspect that Mr. Kouvalis bragged to Macleans with another agenda: stopping people from joining the CPC just to vote against Kellie Leitch. If you’re considering joining the Conservative Party to vote for a candidate better than Kellie Leitch, please don’t let “Operation Flytrap” discourage you. That the Leitch campaign is going to such lengths does prove that they’re worried that they’ll lose if any significant amount of citizens join the CPC and put Dr. Leitch at the bottom of their ballots.

Even if my read is wrong, you have little to lose by joining the Conservative Party and trying to cast a vote against Dr. Leitch. If you haven’t posted anything publically under your legal name, “Operation Flytrap” can’t target you.

If you’re like me and have been public in your criticism of Dr. Leitch, your name may be submitted to the Conservative Party of Canada. But saying it so casually belies the effort involved in even reporting your name. The Leitch campaign can’t report you until they spend the time it takes to prove your identity, format a complaint, and jump through whatever hoops that entails. This process will by necessity include a lot of wasted effort.

If 8,000 people badmouth Dr. Leitch on Twitter, that’s 8,000 tweets that have to be documented as evidence, 8,000 names that have to be discovered through detective work, and up to 8,000 complaints to submit to the Conservative Party. All this for no guaranteed reward, because the Leitch campaign won’t know if any of those people have even joined the party.

And let’s talk about the party. They’re going to get a bunch of names from the Leitch campaign (again, assuming the campaign isn’t lying and doesn’t give up when they realize how much work this all entails) with very little evidence that any of those people have broken their by-laws (or are even members of the party). This puts them in a conundrum. They have to at least look into the complaints or risk the ire of Dr. Leitch. But they can’t afford to take the Leitch campaign’s word on literally any of them.

The Conservative Party is going to have to investigate each complaint, which will be very costly in terms of time and money. It might be that they’ll lose money overall on an influx of people joining to vote against Dr. Leitch, just on the paperwork they’ll have to do to keep Dr. Leitch happy. Proper investigation will be necessary to ensure that in the event of a narrow Leitch victory, the runner up can’t complain that the process was rigged in favour of Dr. Leitch.

The Conservative Party is still a fragile alliance between several different groups. The “party elites” just want to make it through this leadership race with the party intact. At times, this has seemed to be in doubt. Imagine Mr. Chong loses to Dr. Leitch by 300 votes on the last ballot and the party disqualified the ballots of 1,000 members. Can the party even survive that? What if the positions are reversed? Mr. Chong wins by a couple hundred votes after the party refuses to disqualify any members and slaps Dr. Leitch with a substantial fine to boot. Can the party survive that?

Dr. Leitch and Mr. Kouvalis are playing with fire with Operation Flytrap. One thing is clear: it’s not the foes of the Conservative Party of Canada who stand to get burned.

P.S. I’m older than 14, have paid my membership fee, and I agree with all 22 of the party principles. Sorry Nick.

Ad Supported References (as per earlier, please only visit with an adblocker so as to avoid incentivizing Kellie Leitch name recognition):


Advice, Ethics, Politics

Why I Don’t Want Kellie Leitch to Lead the Conservative Party (and how to Stop her)

Note: A previous version of this post referred to Kellie Leitch as “Ms. Leitch” instead of “Dr. Leitch”. I don’t know how I forgot she was a doctor, but I’m deeply sorry that I did. 

Why I Don’t Want Kellie Leitch to Lead the Conservative Party

A couple months ago, I wrote of Kellie Leitch:

I remain genuinely unsure what Kellie Leitch’s goal is. I went into this blog convinced she was another hypocrite who was only using queer Canadians when it suited her racists agenda. And yet, she voted yea to Bill 279 (to treat gender identity as a protected class) despite almost every single one of her cabinet colleagues opposing it. She does appear to have a principled and reasonably long standing support for queer rights. She voted the party line on whipped bills (as does basically every MP in Canada), but when she’s allowed to vote her conscience, we see that it is rather different than many of the other Conservatives. She may be a political opportunist who can sense which way the wind blows. Or she may be trying to change the conservatives from within.

I spent weeks wondering: is Dr. Leitch just a political opportunist, or is she driven by real (albeit misguided) principles? This week, she provided me with an answer [1]:

“Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president. It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well. It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.”

So political opportunist it is then.

Let’s be clear, Kellie Leitch isn’t Donald Trump. She’s calculating and clever. She isn’t going to get embroiled in pointless feuds. People are genuinely worried that Trump might declare a literal shooting war if a foreign leader tweets the wrong thing at him. No one is seriously concerned Kellie Leitch would do the same.

And yet.

Donald Trump hasn’t even taken office, but already his election has changed America. His supporters, emboldened at the thought of no longer being held accountable for bigotry are chomping at the bit. Real people, vulnerable people, are being hurt because of this.

Even if (hypothetical) Prime Minister Kellie Leitch governs soundly and sensibly, even if she never enacts a tip-line for “barbaric cultural practices” and never sets up screening for “anti-Canadian values” [2], her candidacy or victory represents a real risk to black, indigenous, southeast Asian, and Muslim Canadians. As much as we’d love to believe otherwise, there are dangerous racists in Canada. A win for Kellie Leitch on a platform of “Canadian Values” and coded anti-Muslim rhetoric would give this small minority social license to harass, attack, and intimidate. A win by Michael Chong or Eric O’Toole would not.

Unfortunately, there is a real risk that Kellie Leitch could become the next leader of the Conservative party (and from there, possibly PM). It’s a crowded field and she’s learned the correct lessons from Donald Trump. Milk every controversy for as much media attention as possible and strongly appeal to the parts of your base most concerned with the changing appearance of Canada.

It’s rich that Kellie Leitch, who received her bachelor’s at Queens, holds an MD and an MBA, and has worked as a surgeon, professor, MP, and cabinet minister, can campaign on a message that the “elites” need to go. A politics without elites would by necessity be a politics without Dr. Leitch.

But this only scratches the surface of my disagreements with Dr. Leitch; I oppose every policy in her platform. I think her plan to put an absolute cap on government spending is silly. The government needs the flexibility to meet any obstacles it faces. Prime ministers from Pierre Elliot Trudeau to Brian Mulroney to Steven Harper all understood this. I oppose her stance on marijuana – I think prohibition doesn’t work and most Canadians agree with me. Myself and others think that her proposed screening for anti-Canadian values in immigrants is easily subverted and a solution in search of a problem.

I encourage everyone else who opposes Dr. Leitch to focus on her policies and why they’re bad for Canada. Insofar as our values differ from those of Dr. Leitch, we should take the time to explain why. We should seek dialogue with her supporters and seek to allay their fears. We should be proud defenders of globalization and immigration and all the benefits they have brought. We should not retreat into our filter bubbles and dismiss the rest of Canada as the wrong kind of people. That kind of retrenchment doesn’t have the best track record right now.

I think there are much better candidates in the conservative leadership race. Michael Chong, for example, has an excellent record on social issues and supports carbon pricing. He and I have policy disagreements, but a Conservative Party of Canada led by Michael Chong would be a contender for my vote in the next election. Given that the NDP has abandoned me, I would dearly like to be able to make a choice between two parties with sound policy proposals and positive plans for Canada going forward. I could not do that with Kellie Leitch at the head of the Conservative Party.

4 Things You Can Do To Help

Kellie Leitch is relying on free media attention to differentiate her from a crowded field. Under no circumstances should we advocate for deliberate suppression of stories about Dr. Leitch. And yet, outrage generates clicks. As long as Kellie Leitch can profit from her simple algorithm – say something objectionable, but not so objectionable that the party kicks you out, wait for the media to write a hundred stories about it, profit from the increased name recognition – she’ll continue to use it.

We can attempt to complicate her algorithm by removing the financial incentive to focus most of the media coverage that the CPC leadership race is getting on her. There are a few ways you can do this.

  1. Promise yourself that you won’t share any news stories about her electronically. By all means, tell you friends. But don’t share it on your Facebook wall where it will generate clicks.
  2. If you must visit a news article about Kellie Leitch (say to research for a blog post about her), visit with an ad-blocker. You’ll notice that I’ve used [N] style references throughout this post. Those are all links to recent stories about Kellie Leitch. I’d ask that anyone who cares about her not winning the leadership race not visit them without an ad-blocker.
  3. Share this information with your friends. If they post a story about Kellie Leitch, gently tell them why this is a bad idea. Don’t get angry. Your friend is doing nothing morally wrong. But they are contributing to the outrage cycle and if you can stop it, that’s great. If they don’t understand the threat Kellie Leitch poses, show them some of the hate crimes that have been committed in America since Trump was elected and explain to them that Kellie Leitch winning an election would possibly have the same consequences. You can link them to this post if you’d like (I don’t have ads on my website and make no money if you do). Or you can show them how Trump’s win has already emboldened the alt-right in Canada.
  4. If you’re a member of the Conservative Party of Canada or plan to become a member before the leadership race membership cut-off of March 28, 2017, you can act more directly to ensure that Kellie Leitch does not win the vote. It doesn’t matter how you rank the candidates, as long as Kellie Leitch is ranked last (although if you care at all about climate change, you may want Brad Trost ranked low on your ballot as well).

Kellie Leitch has gained name recognition and a measure of popularity with her stances. But she’s also made a lot of enemies. She leads the field in both favourability and unfavourability ratings. The next leader of the Conservative Party will be picked using instant run-off with ranked ballots. If Kellie Leitch is at the bottom of most people’s ballots, she can’t win.

Let the next Canadian election be about which policies will bring us peace, order, and good government. Let’s not bring race and belonging into it.

Kellie Leitch related links (don’t visit without an ad-blocker):



Epistemic Status: Ethics?

Falsifiable, Politics

Kellie Leitch and Liberal Democracy

Note: A previous version of this post referred to Kellie Leitch as “Ms. Leitch” instead of “Dr. Leitch”. I don’t know how I forgot she was a doctor, but I’m deeply sorry that I did. 

Kellie Leitch recently put out a survey that asked potential Conservative voters “should the Canadian Government screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening process for refugees and landed immigrants.” This has proved controversial, to say the least. It’s been described as a dog-whistle and has prompted other candidates to ask her to leave the race.

Dr. Leitch later clarified that she meant immigrants should be screened for: “intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms”.

I have a lot of conflicted feelings about this. First, I’ve heard Canadian progressives wish that they could screen their conservative brethren for those biases and throw out the ones who fail. Certainly there must be some overlap between people angry about Kellie Leitch’s statement and those who would cheer this sort of thing on if the target were Canadian Christians and not recent immigrants. I view this sort of moral relativism as fundamentally at odds with liberal democracy and want no part in it.

But Kellie Leitch was a member of Mr. Harper’s government and one of his cabinet ministers. Even if she marched in the Pride Parade this year, it’s reasonable to assume she’s let a lot of anti-gay and anti-women bigotry pass (especially because she’s recently met with the Wildrose Party). Even if her voting record on private member’s bills was rather different than many of her colleagues (see her support for Bill 279), she was still a member of the Harper cabinet and is therefore complicit in its lack of support for queer and female Canadians.

Whether hypocrisy lies with Kellie Leitch, her opponents (or both) is an important question. In a liberal democracy, we should only legislate around classes of things. We should not say: “it is hate speech when a Christian attacks gay marriage, but okay if an atheist does it”, we should instead say either “it is permissible to disagree with gay marriage as long as you don’t call for violence against specific gay people” or “it isn’t permissible to disagree with gay marriage”. In either case, the prohibition targets Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and Atheists equally.

Liberal democracy can result in different groups of people being treated differently. The general principle “the government should compensate groups for past wrongs” results in very different outcomes for Japanese-Canadians who are descended from those who were interred during World War 2 and recent arrivals from Britain (namely, the recently arrivals from Britain get nothing and the descendants of interred Japanese-Canadians get a cash transfer). But the general principle doesn’t discriminate; circumstances do.

In this case, it’s hard to evaluate who is sticking to general principles and who is engaging in special pleading. Is Kellie Leitch acting from the general principle “Canada should only be for those who agree with Canadian values” or is she using coded language to say “we should keep Muslims out of Canada”? And are her detractors acting on the principle “Canada should be welcoming to newcomers” or the principle “we don’t like Conservatives and will take any excuse to attack them”? As Dr. Leitch’s detractors are a large, amorphous group with no spokesperson, both of those are probably true to varying degrees among the individual members. Dr. Leitch is unfortunately more opaque. Is she a political opportunist, or is she seeking power to quietly change the Conservatives from within?

So it’s unclear if Kellie Leitch’s implied proposal (that we begin screening potential immigrants for “anti-Canadian” values) can be defended as principled or not. Perhaps we can turn to a simpler test: is it needful? Wherever legislation codifies a limit on freedoms, it should be done only when there is a genuine need for it. This general democratic ideal is written into the very first section of the constitution of Canada, which stipulates freedoms should be impaired only in ways that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Jurisprudence likes the Oakes test builds up a framework for laws that limit freedom that require them to be connected to a pressing objective, proportional to the urgency of the objective, and rationally capable of bringing about the objective.

Before returning to musings on liberal democracy, we should evaluate enhanced screening through the lens of urgency and capability. We must ask: is Canada’s immigration system broken? Is the current immigration system eroding Kellie Leitch’s enumerated Canadian values and leading to a worse Canada?

I can find no fault in Kellie Leitch’s list of values and am going to assume that this post isn’t aimed at anyone who fundamentally disagrees with them. Given these values as a goal for Canada, accepting that any erosion of these values would be an urgent problem, and given that there are many countries around the world where the majority of people don’t support these rights/values, it should not be prima facie unreasonable to be worried that immigration from certain countries could threaten these values, or that legislation could be deployed to screen immigrants such that these values are no longer threatened.

A world in which immigration does threaten these values would have one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. There is an ongoing crisis of integration in Canadian society, with a significant proportion of newcomers failing to pick up “Canadian Values” if they did not already possess them.
  2. There are groups immigrating to Canada with the express purpose of shifting Canadian society closer to their (repressive) ideal.
  3. Immigrants to Canada aren’t screened or are screened inadequately for their ability to fit into Canadian culture.

Let’s go through them one by one.

1 – Crisis of Integration

I feel like one of the purposes of any blog I run is to slightly repackage the ideas of Joseph Heath for those who don’t follow Canadian politics blogging. Case in point is his post about the recent protests around the Ontario Sex-Ed Curriculum. In it, he argues that:

[Conservatives] don’t realize how hard it is to transmit a culture that deviates in any significant way from the mainstream. It’s not enough to have a home environment that is radically different. You need to create extensive social isolation, so that children and their peer groups are insulated from every aspect of mainstream society, including schools and the media. This is why religious sects often move to distant rural areas, and limit access to radio, television, internet, etc. This is also why progressives worry about “social exclusion” and racism – because these are some of the few forces powerful enough to create the level of isolation required to impair successful integration. Absent these forces, Canadian suburbs are like giant machines for churning out generic Canadians, and there’s very little a family can do about that.

Surveys show the Canada is consistently one of the best countries in the world at integrating immigrants. While there was a recent slip in Canada’s rankings, this is directly attributable to the policies of the Conservative party – the sorts of policies that can create the social and economic isolation that has caused such integration problems in Europe. With these policies set to be reversed under the Liberal government, there is currently little danger of a serious and protracted integration crisis.

I’d also like to highlight what Joseph Heath obliquely points out: the Canadian method of integration is sneaky. We don’t demand overt displays of patriotism (like Americans). Instead, we count on an excellent public school system to expose children to a diverse peer group and let that do the job of integration for us.

2 – Creeping Threat

This is the stuff of conspiracy theories, not statistics (alas that no one includes stealthy conquest on the list of travel purposes). To deal with this point, I propose a thought experiment. Given that people (in general) don’t to pointless things, what seems more likely: people moving to Canada, in the hopes of moving a famously tolerant society towards whatever form of oppression they prefer, or them moving instead to a country already much more closely aligned with their desired outcome?

It beggars belief to think that with so many countries out there where this sort of thing would be vastly easier that anyone would pick Canada. For Buddhist hardliners, there is Burma, for Islamists, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the remnants of Daesh. For conservative Christians, the American Deep South.

But I can offer one further reassurance. Let’s presume that a variety of groups are all trying to do this. Since none of them agree on what exactly the ideal society is, they don’t talk or coordinate. For some inexplicable reason, hardline Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians all pick Canada to make their heaven on earth. And then promptly all run into each other and their intractable disagreements.

This sort of creeping threat only works if it comes from one viewpoint only. If everyone is trying it, they’re either going to fight each other to extinction, or realize what Europe did in the 1700s and 1800s: when you have intractable disagreements about religion and morals, your options are liberal democracy or death. See Joseph Heath, again.

All of this of course also ignores the fact that Canada takes in less than 1% of its population in immigrants every year and that most of those immigrants assimilate in one generation, leaving a supermajority of Canadians primed to oppose any imposition of alien values.

3 – Existing Screening

It’s pretty hard to immigrate to Canada, despite what Americans on the wrong side of presidential elections tend to believe. To be able to immigrate to Canada, you’ll probably need a college education, proficiency in English or French, and unless your education and past work experience are impressive, either family already in Canada, or a job lined up.

All of these things indirectly select for people who are good fits for Canada. The language requirement selects for people who’ve already absorbed one of our languages and as a consequence, been exposed to media that encodes for our values (or similar values). The education requirement selects for people who are willing to learn. Having a job in Canada means you’ve already convinced some Canadians you’re a good cultural fit and having relatives means that you’ll have others to help you integrate (and know what you’re getting into).

And related to the above; people aren’t stupid. I have trouble believing any significant amount of people who believe women shouldn’t be educated will move to a country where their daughters will be taken away from them and given to foster parents if they aren’t sent to school. I have trouble believing that people absolutely, viscerally sickened by gay people will move to a country with some of the largest gay pride parades in the world; where like it or not, their children will be taught that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.

These two forces combined mean that it’s relatively rare for someone deeply at odds with Canada’s culture to move here.

Given that these three points did not hold up to close scrutiny, there appears to be no urgent threat to “Canadian values”. I would therefore consider additional screening to be unnecessary legislation for the sake of legislation. Given that the rhetoric around such screening could be harmful – leading many new arrivals to feel like they are inherently suspect or less worthy of being Canadian – I would not support any candidate who proposed it.

I remain genuinely unsure what Kellie Leitch’s goal is. I went into this blog convinced she was another hypocrite who was only using queer Canadians when it suited her racists agenda. And yet, she voted yea to Bill 279 (to treat gender identity as a protected class) despite almost every single one of her cabinet colleagues opposing it. She does appear to have a principled and reasonably long standing support for queer rights. She voted the party line on whipped bills (as does basically every MP in Canada), but when she’s allowed to vote her conscience, we see that it is rather different than many of the other Conservatives. She may be a political opportunist who can sense which way the wind blows. Or she may be trying to change the conservatives from within.

If I was sent the survey, I would have answered no to her question. But I can’t believe that her question was beyond the pale. It represents a reasonable position and could be implemented in a principled way. That the evidence doesn’t currently support it as necessary means merely that it shouldn’t be implemented, not that no one should say it. Liberal democracy works best when we’re reminded that there are people working from different sets of axioms. This reminder keeps us on our toes and reinvigorates our support for universal rights that aren’t tied to membership in any one group or ideology.

These disagreements remind us that we cannot impose our will or morality by fiat on anyone else, but also that they are bound by the same prohibitions. This is a set of rules that I’m happy to play by. I hope that Dr. Leitch is too.

Epistemic Status: Falsifiable