Burst of populism in Conservative leadership race has changed the party: Lisa Raitt
TORONTO — A sudden burst of populism during the last Conservative leadership contest transformed the party and left a lasting mark on Canadian politics generally, former MP and leadership candidate Lisa Raitt suggested Wednesday.
Speaking at a University of Toronto conference on populism, Raitt said she was “shocked” by some of the radical ideas espoused by others vying for the federal Conservative crown two years ago.
Those ideas did not ultimately hold sway within the party, but remain a part of the Conservative movement, she said. And they’ve influenced politics more widely, Raitt added, pointing to Quebec’s controversial religious-symbols legislation and Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party.
“The point I make is that through these kind of innocuous races, you do have a morphing of your party, a growth of your party, or a regress of your party, when these kinds of ideas make their way into the normal conversation,” said the former labour and transport minister. “Our party is not the same as it was before this last leadership race. You can’t undo what was said and done and heard, especially to the masses.”
Raitt, deputy Conservative leader before the election, and former Liberal interim leader Bob Rae spoke at the end of the day-long conference, called Western Populism: The disruption. Moderator Peter Loewen, of the Munk School of Global Affairs, asked the pair how Canada had managed to avoid the explosions of populism and nativism seen in the U.S. and Western Europe recently.
Both said they’d seen evidence of the movements here, even though they had yet to take flight in any serious way.
Raitt pointed to the Conservative leadership race in 2016 and 2017 won by Andrew Scheer. She had been touted as a top contender to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper, but wound up eighth in the field of 14.
Celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary, who eventually dropped out of the contest, advocated a sort of economic populism, she said, while MP Kellie Leitch promoted a social form of populism. Leitch applauded Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, and suggested a “Canadian values” screening test for would-be immigrants.
“Never was I more shocked to hear some of my colleagues come out and espouse theories and policy planks that I never really thought were part of their make-up,” Raitt said. “Or things that they actually fundamentally believed in.”