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A new party sees an opening on Doug Ford’s right flank

News

On an unseasonably scorching May evening in Ottawa, an eclectic crowd gathered in a small conference room in the city’s west end. The Ontario election has mostly elicited yawns from the electorate but this meeting of the New Blue Party had an electric undercurrent.

It is a classic trope of political campaigning for organizers to book a smaller room than needed and lure journalists into stories about overflowing halls and extra chairs being brought in to satisfy the demand.

Cramming more than 100 people into the tiny conference room at the Hyatt Place in Nepean seemed to be a genuine miscalculation, though, as supporters squeezed together uncomfortably in the warm temperatures and spilled into the hallway.

Belinda Karahalios, whose husband Jim Karahalios leads the party, said the event “tripled our expectations.”

The party is only a year-and-a-half old and is a result of some personal grudges against the governing Progressive Conservatives and a resilient sense among some voters that the PCs have campaigned to the right and governed to the left.

Like any grassroots party, it scorns the establishment, whether it’s Doug Ford’s PC Party or Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

Party leader Jim Karahalios wrapped up his speech at around 8 p.m. while, across the country in Edmonton, the Conservative Party leadership candidates were getting ready to hold their first official leadership debate. No one in the packed conference room seemed to know or care.

In a series of speeches given by local candidates, followed by former PC MLA Belinda Karahalios and then Jim Karahalios, the mainstream parties were mocked and pilloried. Belinda Karahalios was booted from Doug Ford’s PC caucus after resisting a bill to give the government sweeping emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic and her main promise to voters is that she will represent them, rather than succumb to party whips or lobbyists.

“That party is rotten to the core,” she said, during a short speech that mostly told the story of her battle against the party machine.

Jim Karahalios resisted the “right wing” label for his own party, referring to it simply as a grassroots movement and describing its supporters as people who believe the system has been hijacked. The key applause lines in Jim Karahalios’ speech, though, were all issues that target Ford’s right flank, from taxes, to fiscal policy, to school curriculum, which he says is infested with critical race theory.

Jim Karahalios described the Ford government as “the provincial wing of the Justin Trudeau federal Liberal Party” and an “extension of the McGuinty-Wynne government.” His speech decried the industrial carbon tax brought in by the PCs and pointed out that even after removing COVID-19 spending, the size of government in Ontario has grown under Ford.

The New Blue Ontario Party is not the only party to see an opportunity on Ford’s right flank.

The Ontario Party is led by former federal Conservative malcontent Derek Sloan, who was booted from the party by former leader Erin O’Toole. After running as an independent in the 2021 federal election in the Alberta riding of Banff—Airdrie, Sloan was soundly defeated by the local Conservative incumbent. On the campaign trail, Sloan has been voicing his opposition to vaccine mandates and declaring his enthusiasm for freedom.

During a recent speech in Sudbury, Sloan warned about the “ongoing and encroaching surveillance state” that he said resembles Communist China, decried plans by the World Economic Forum to put “microchips in our bodies and in our heads,” and said there’s a “strong libertarian flair” to his party, according to a local news site.Ontario Party Leader Derek Sloan talks ‘freedoms’ in Sudburyhttps://www.sudbury.com/local-news/ontario-party-leader-derek-sloan-talks-freedoms-in-sudbury-5345587

Sloan was recently banned from Twitter, which he believes is due to comments that were critical of COVID-19 vaccines.

At the New Blue Party event, an eclectic group of local candidates took turns delivering short speeches, with most of them successfully toeing the line between opposition to vaccine mandates and pandemic policies and the insidious conspiracy theories that have been seeping into right wing politics on this topic. When one candidate broke into a rant about vaccine side effects and insulted a CBC cameraman, he admitted to the crowd that he was getting head shakes and disapproval from party members assembled just outside the door of the room.

Although the two parties haven’t been getting much media attention, they represent an ongoing phenomenon in Canadian politics as the country emerges from a two-year pandemic. Anger about COVID-19 restrictions has sparked a movement in Alberta to oust Premier Jason Kenney, who will learn the results of an extraordinary review of his leadership on Wednesday. Earlier this year, Ontario was a focal point of a massive protest against vaccine mandates and various other pandemic policies. Truckers and heavy vehicles seized downtown Ottawa for weeks and border crossings were blockaded by protesters, causing a major trade disruption.

The trucker protests, which Jim Karahalios attended in the first week, have been a similar mix of genuine opposition to pandemic policies combined with extremism about overthrowing the government, vaccine misinformation, and conspiracy theories.

In last year’s federal election, the People’s Party of Canada tallied its best-ever numbers by winning five percent of the popular vote and hosting raucous rallies around the country. In Ontario, the PPC out-performed its national vote shared by earning 5.5 percent of votes.

It’s likely the PPC pulled voters angry about pandemic restrictions away from the Conservative Party and possibly cost the party seats by splitting the vote.

In the 2021 federal election, a calculation by Global News found that the Conservative Party’s margin of loss was smaller than the PPC vote share in 20 ridings, possibly costing them many of those seats.Canada election: Did the PPC split the Conservative vote? Maybe — but it’s not that simplehttps://globalnews.ca/news/8212872/canada-election-conservative-vote-splitting/

According to pre-election polling, about half of the PPC’s voters said the Conservative Party was their second choice. A deeper analysis conducted a month after the election by Global News found that not securing those voters cost the Conservative Party six seats, with five of them going to the Liberal Party. The Liberals secured a minority government with 160 seats.People’s Party may have cost the Tories 6 ridings on election nighthttps://globalnews.ca/news/6071771/ppc-conservative-spoiler-election

If Ontario’s new right wing parties can combine to match the popular vote performance of the PPC of 5.5 percent, it would be greater than the PC margin of victory in the previous election in a dozen ridings in the province.

And a recent poll by Leger and Postmedia last week shows that the New Blue Party seems to be attracting disgruntled conservatives. The party attracted three percent support, which is up from two percent the previous week and is only one percentage point behind the Green Party.Ontario election: Ford’s PCs pull away from Liberals in new poll that should worry Del Ducahttps://nationalpost.com/news/ontario-election/ontario-election-fords-pcs-pull-away-from-liberals-in-new-poll-that-should-worry-del-duca

Most of the pandemic restrictions have been dropped in Ontario and the summer weather is pushing the pandemic down the list of voter priorities, but the province’s new right wing parties are hoping that voters remember that the PC government imposed the longest school closures in North America and Toronto residents endured one of the longest indoor dining bans in the world.

At the event in Ottawa, Jim Karahalios declined to answer what victory would look like for his party, whether it was winning a seat, building up vote-share, or simply successfully running candidates in all 124 ridings.

“If we stop, things will get worse a whole lot faster,” said Jim Karahalios.

Bitcoin takes a beating in the markets and the Conservative leadership debate

News

Candidates lined up to attack Pierre Poilievre for his advocacy for cryptocurrencies as the Ontario-area MP got his first taste of frontrunner attention in the first official debate in the Conservative Party leadership race Wednesday night.

Poilievre has touted the digital currencies as an emblem of freedom and said he wants Canada to be the “blockchain capital of the world.”“At a campaign stop in London, Ont. on Monday, Poilievre said Canadians need more financial freedom, which cryptocurrencies including bitcoin can offer. ‘Government is ruining the Canadian dollar, so Canadians should have the freedom to use other money, such as bitcoin,’ Poilievre said. ‘Canada needs less financial control for politicians and bankers and more financial freedom for the people.'” https://tnc.news/2022/03/28/bitcoin-lets-canadians-opt-out-of-inflation-pierre-poilievre/

“Everyone just finds it totally bizarre what Mr. Poilievre is suggesting,” said Jean Charest. “Bitcoin has lost 60 percent of its value since November of last year and 20 percent in the last month. Anyone following his advice that he saw on Youtube would have lost 20 percent of their earnings.”

Both Leslyn Lewis and Patrick Brown also mentioned the recent swoon in digital currency values as an indictment of Poilievre’s judgment.

“I disagree with Mr. Poilievre’s approach that you can opt-out of inflation with cryptocurrency,” said Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown. “Magic internet money fluctuates vastly.”

Poilievre said the other candidates were misleading voters about his position on the digital currencies.

“I clearly stated that people should have the freedom” to invest in cryptocurrency, said Poilievre.

“The reason people have chosen to exercise that freedom is because central banks have been attacking the value of our national currency by printing $400 billion here in Canada,” said Poilievre.

“I can’t believe you have a bunch of careers politicians up here giving people investment advice,” said Roman Baber, a former Ontario MLA, to laughs from the crowd.

Last night’s debate didn’t reach the same heights of fiery confrontation as the previous week’s event, which saw sparks fly between Poilievre and Charest on the trucker protests that swept across Canada earlier this year.Handshake snubs and a defence of the truckers in an ill-tempered CPC debate

In response to a question on the protests, Poilievre said he had supported peaceful protesters who were fighting for their liberties and disapproved of any criminal activity.

Brown skirmished with Poilievre on the issue and said he was opposed to any kind of illegal blockade, whether it was truckers or people protesting pipelines.

“Blockades have a massive cost on the country,” said Brown. “Full stop: no illegal blockades.”

The debate was a frenetic affair, with the candidates initially expected to reel off responses in 30 seconds while navigating a strict ban on mentioning other candidates or politicians in the first round. The moderator, former television journalist Tom Clark, frequently interrupted the candidates and lectured the crowd about cheering for a candidate’s response.

The debate also featured a lightning round that asked the candidates about their favourite books, musicians, TV shows, and their political heroes. The final question in that round asked candidates what the biggest threat to Canada is and allowed 15 seconds for responses.

The most notable development compared to last week’s debate at the Canada Strong and Free Network conferenceCanada’s conservatives gather in a moment of ideological turmoil was the appearance of Patrick Brown, who had declined to attend that event.

Brown wasted no time ripping into Poilievre in his opening statement. Although the candidates weren’t allowed to mention each other by name, Brown clearly referenced his rival as a divisive and polarizing candidate who “has walked into every trap” the Liberals have sprung for him.

In his opening statement, Poilievre stuck to the themes that have been drawing massive crowds throughout the campaign, including cost of living issues and inflation. Poilievre also promised to replace the governor of the Bank of Canada if he were to become prime minister, capping off a series of attacks on the Bank which were met with a furious response from a former governor.

In response to a Poilievre comment that the bank officials are “financially illiterate,” former Bank governor David Dodge fired back this week.

“That’s bullshit. I’m very insulted by that,” said Dodge during an interview on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday. “They made a judgment call, which I think was 100 percent right.”

Later in the debate, Charest took aim at Poilievre’s pledge to replace Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem.

“It’s irresponsible. It creates doubt. If you’re an investor looking to come to Canada and you hear that kind of statement coming from a member of the House of Commons, you’d think you were in a third-world country,” said Charest.

In the first round of questions, with a maximum of 30 seconds for responses, the candidates also tackled a question on whether they would legislate on abortion.

Poilievre said a government under his leadership would not propose or pass any legislation restricting abortion in Canada. Leslyn Lewis decried the current state of the law in Canada, pointing out that an abortion at nine months would currently be legal, although she was cut off by the moderator before she could say if she would propose legislation on this.

In a follow-up question, Charest took the chance to attack Poilievre for not being clear about his personal opinion on the issue.

“Every candidate in this race needs to tell the women of Canada where they stand, whether they’re pro or against. Mr. Polievre’s answer does not meet that test,” said Charest.

On Indigenous issues, Clark asked all the candidates if they would implement all 94 recommendations of the truth and reconciliation commission and both Poilievre and Charest turned the issue toward the resource economy.

“They should be part of our resource economy. They should own equity. I would put together a Crown corporation that would allow them to own equity,” said Charest.