In Canada, a business class brain trust is launching a new centrist party for the upcoming election. With workers suffering multiple crises in housing and household debt, Canada needs a new centrist party like it needs a hole in the head.
The new centrist Canadian Future Party was announced on September 20, 2023. (Vladone / Getty Images)
In 2023, a number of serious challenges have come to the fore in Canada. There are the extreme wildfires that have received global attention. The country might be sitting on the biggest housing bubble in history. Inflation remains persistent while interest rates threaten a recession. Household debt has continued to grow and has surpassed 100 percent of GDP, the highest in the G7. And to top it all off, relations with the world’s two most populous countries (and its two largest sources of immigrants) have cratered over allegations of foreign interference including an assassination.
So, what do some in the political class think Canadians now need? You guessed it, yet another political party. Of course, this is not an endeavor aimed at establishing a viable socialist party to represent the interests of working people. Instead, it’s the brainchild of members of the power elite who feel that the centrist Liberal Party isn’t centrist enough and the Conservative Party is too crude. It is not an effort to give color to the political spectrum; it is an attempt to replace anemic gray with anemic gray and hope that the newness of the packaging will appeal to voters.
On September 20, the Canadian Future Party (CFP) was unveiled. In recent years, there has been growing talk of a new centrist party, with momentum building notably since Pierre Poilievre assumed leadership of the Conservative Party. A group called Centre Ice Canadians (formerly Centre Ice Conservatives) has led the charge. The group was founded by Rick Peterson, an investment banker based in Edmonton who ran in the 2017 Conservative Party leadership election and finished twelfth out of fourteen.
Underwhelming Party Brass
One might assume that Peterson’s dismal track record and meager level of support would be enough to undermine the prospects of the CFP, but he is not alone. Remarkably, the aspirant party’s interim leader, Dominic Cardy, manages to rival Peterson’s lackluster credentials.
It is hard to think of a Canadian politician with such ambition who has accomplished so little. Cardy began his political journey in the New Democratic Party (NDP). In the early 2000s — at a time when the NDP was in an identity crisis — Cardy, a Tony Blair admirer, advocated the party adopt the approach of third way social democracy in Europe. Upon assuming leadership of the of the New Brunswick NDP in 2011, he shifted policies toward the center, alienating traditional supporters, many of whom then defected to the provinces’ Green Party.
Although Cardy never secured a seat for the NDP in the provincial legislature, the Green Party managed to do so while the New Brunswick NDP was under his leadership, providing a much-needed progressive option for the province. In early 2017, he left the party blaming his departure on conflicts with the province’s largest public sector union, party insiders, and his disagreement with the federal NDP’s opposition to militarily intervening in the Syrian civil war. He saw these factors as “destructive forces.”
To be fair, Cardy was never a good fit for even the tepidly social democratic NDP. The embryonic CFP seems like a much better fit. To give an idea of what kind of so-called social democrat Cardy was, he denounced the NDP upon his departure by stating: “Those same destructive forces continue their sterile battle, ignoring the will of the party they claim to champion, using language from the 1930s and policies from the 1970s. There is nothing progressive about this behaviour.”
Cardy promptly thereafter jumped to the New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives (PC). While initially suggesting he would work behind the scenes, he eventually ran for and won a seat in the 2018 provincial election. He was appointed minister of education and early childhood development, but resigned from the position in October 2022, citing Premier Blaine Higgs’s leadership style and conduct as unacceptable. Now he has remerged in his quixotic quest to create a new centrist party in Canada.
A Dead Ideology
Ideologically, the kind of party that CFP strives to be is firmly rooted in Canadian history. In many ways, it mirrors the ideology of the (Progressive) Conservative Party from Canada’s confederation in 1867 to the 1990s. During that era, the Conservatives typically aligned with Red Toryism, also known as One Nation Conservatism in Britain.
That form of conservatism emphasized communitarianism, paternalism, noblesse oblige, and nationalism. In its Canadian variant, it promoted national industrial development through tariffs and infrastructure building, as well as favoring the British Empire over closer relations with the United States. Additionally, it enjoyed large Protestant support.
Conversely, the Liberals advocated for free trade with the United States, Quebec interests, and garnered support from Catholics across the country. After World War II, these traditions began to wane and a realignment in Canadian conservatism occurred.
By the 1980s, the PCs were leading proponents of free trade with the United States, and conservatism in Canada has since become closely associated with neoliberalism and neoconservatism. Despite some attempts by Red Tories in the 1990s and early 2000s to avoid being overshadowed on the Right by the ideological heirs of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the shift toward a more market-oriented conservatism has persisted. The foundations of Red Toryism have been eroded by the decline of the British Empire and the rise of neoliberalism.
The CFP also faces certain challenges within the Canadian political system. One of the most significant is the first-past-the-post electoral system, which tends to not be friendly to new parties. The Reform Party, a predecessor to today’s Conservative Party, is a notable exception to this rule. However, even the Reform Party failed to make inroads in Eastern Canada and achieve the status of a viable party of government until it merged with the PCs in 2003.
Another factor to consider is the adaptability of the Liberal Party. It is the one of the most successful political parties in any democratic country, having held power for nearly seventy years during the twentieth century. The Liberal Party has demonstrated its ability to secure the support of successive waves of immigrants and has successfully adapted to both Keynesianism and neoliberalism.
This is where the CFP will likely falter. The party’s vision doesn’t offer much that the Liberals, Conservatives or even the NDP cannot provide. The CFP wants to reduce the deficit and government debt. The Liberals may have put deficit reduction on hold for now, but that certainly doesn’t mean they will going forward.
With Justin Trudeau’s popularity declining, there are prospective future Liberal leaders, like Treasury Board president Anita Anand, who are already carrying out attempts to cut departmental budgets. History shows us that the Liberals can be deficit hawks too, like in the 1990s. And, of course, the Conservatives want to cut the debt. On such a playing field, there does not appear to be much room for the CFP to distinguish themselves. Or, indeed, make clear what purpose they would serve.
We Need More Centrists Like We Need a Hole in the Head
It is also unclear what the CFP is offering to distinguish itself on social issues. The pitch that the party seems to be making to voters is that it will be a financially prudent party with a conservative streak that will not engage in the culture wars. There are no positions on hot-button social issues in any of its policy announcements and the party appears set to reiterate the Liberal Party’s position on immigration — that Canada needs new immigrants.
A quick glance at global politics reveals limited interest in the professed smart governance of centrist wonks and technocrats. What’s gaining traction today is right-wing populism, led by figures like Giorgia Meloni in Italy and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. These politicians actively engage in the culture wars to mobilize their bases. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that Conservative partisans are more preoccupied with the ring-wing populist People’s Party of Canada than the CFP.
The last time the Conservatives flirted with anything resembling Red Toryism, under the leadership of Erin O’Toole in the 2021 election, they lost and O’Toole was booted by his own caucus. The mass base for this kind of centrism no longer exists.
To those of us on the Left, the most galling thing about trying to reboot centrism is the pure nihilism of it. Centrist’s commitment to tinkering at the margins while the planet careens toward annihilation can appear provocatively obtuse. Centrism’s nihilism, characterized by an acceptance of the status quo despite its grave threat to the planet and human civilization, saps the vitality from political discourse.
In the face of numerous global crises demanding bold solutions, the emergence of the CFP, comprised of politicians and business figures who ended up on the wrong side of Conservative leadership contests, is underwhelming. Their only promise is “evidence-based” governance that offers a marginally improved status quo.
Considering the current political climate in which the CFP is launching their election bid, one might even begrudgingly admire their quixotic determination. In the end, there is a very strong likelihood that none of us will need to concern ourselves with them after the next Canadian federal election, which is a relief.Original post