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Conservative Party Leadership… It’s Our Turn Canada!

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The debate for the Conservative leadership race held this past Saturday in Halifax featured all fourteen (fourteen!) hopeful candidates.
 
On the surface, it was eerily reminiscent of last year’s Republican leadership race in the United States. The race featured an over-crowded stage, a reality TV star, a surgeon turned politician, and a lack of French language skills.
 
Kevin O’Leary, Kellie Leitch, and Maxime Bernier are emerging as the frontrunners. Bernier appears to be the most reasonable as the three, but it will be very difficult to compete with the media frenzy surrounding O’Leary and Leitch. Campaigning on standard conservative principles like smaller government, less taxes, stronger security, balancing the budget, and so on, is unlikely to cut it against the competition. O’Leary and Leitch, on the other hand, have that controversial, political outsider appeal going for them – and is just so trendy right now.
 
It is surprising how toned down O’Leary’s rhetoric is, and he seems to be forming a campaign based on one half of the Trump persona: the uber-savvy business man. One of the main challenges that the new Conservative leader – whomever that ends up being – will be to take on Justin Trudeau in a popularity contest spurred on by the media.
 
O’Leary seems intent to capitalize on his star power appeal, and sees this as an avenue to defeating Trudeau. O’Leary will continue presenting himself as an astute businessman with a no nonsense approach to fixing our economy, and brazenly criticizing Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne at every opportunity.
 
Despite O’Leary’s lack of political experience and French language skills, he has a lot going for him in the context of this race. He appears to be disinterested in policy concerns, and is claiming to be against divisive politics. He is completely honed in on jobs and the economy, while lambasting the Liberal government at every opportunity. By characterizing Trump as a reckless bully that will roll over Trudeau to get what he wants, O’Leary is presenting himself as the only one who can take on Trump in an epic showdown featuring two reality TV star-business tycoons turned political heads of state, as they battle for North American trade supremacy.
 
Should O’Leary secure the Conservative nomination, the other parties ought to be wary. He has the same political outsider appeal that played such a key role in the recent American presidential election, but with far less controversy than Mr. Trump. He will prove a formidable foe for Trudeau, and his status as a political outsider will likely only enhance his public image.
 
So while O’Leary has the political outsider, reality T.V star, business tycoon image covered, Kellie Leitch is more than willing to play the more controversial social conservative role. Essentially, she represents the other half of the Trump campaign.
 
Leitch has already taken a fair amount of heat for her ‘screening for Canadian values’ policy for accepting new immigrants. She is calling for an increase in the amount of immigration officers to better monitor who is being allowed into the country. Immigrants will only be admitted into Canada if they pass a standard ‘Canadian values’ test.
 
The description of her screening policy is a thinly veiled critique of Muslim stereotypes, citing religious intolerance and a lack of belief in gender equality as reasons to deny entry to immigration candidates. Leitch claims to be “the only leadership candidate willing to talk about and stand up for a united Canadian identity that is based on shared, historic Canadian values”, and is making this a focal point of her campaign.
 
Another seemingly odd campaign promise concerns resource development. She intends to “crack down on anyone who attempts by means of violence or vandalism to disrupt the development of our natural resources”. This approach would come with a heavier set of penalties and a task force mandated to seek out and persecute perpetrators. Besides this, Leitch’s campaign is based on traditional conservative concerns (insert Margaret Thatcher quote), and is committed to picking up where Stephen Harper left off with regards to a hard-line foreign policy with little patience for International institutions.
 
Leitch’s trumpeting of divisive politics is unlikely to gain enough support nationwide toreturn the Conservative Party to power, and at the end of the day it will probably be a showdown between Bernier and O’Leary for the nomination. But hey, stranger things have been happening lately.
 
Maybe by 2019 we will have Leitch as Prime Minister, Trump as American President, Marie LaPen running France, and the dissolution of the European Union, so stay tuned!
 
Joe Gallant (1L) is a staff writer for Juris Diction

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