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Young Canadians are pessimistic. Conservatives have different ideas about what to do about it


If there is a battle for the hearts and votes of young Canadians, it likely won’t be won with soaring rhetoric and patriotic appeals.

It may not be surprising after the COVID-19 pandemic, but young Canadians are not feeling good about their country, according to a recent poll produced by The Hub and Public Square Research and conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panelClick the link to join the Leger Opinion online panel and get your voice heard in surveys like this..

Pierre Poilievre, the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race, has pitched an alternating vision of Canada: sometimes focusing on the crumbling institutions and sclerotic government, and other times offering an optimistic vision of Canada as the “freest country on earth.”

Contrast that to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s early rhetoric of “sunny ways” and “positive, optimistic” politics which self-consciously steered clear of negativity.

Poilievre’s language may reflect his own temperament, or it may reflect his understanding of the mood of the electorate in the wake of a grinding two-and-a-half-year pandemic.

Among Canadians over the age of 55, about 74 percent agree with the idea that “although times are tough, I am very hopeful for the future of Canada,” compared to only 57 percent of Canadians aged 18 to 34, according to the poll.

The poll also shows that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now rolled into its third year, younger Canadians are also much less open to the idea of helping others than older Canadians.

Adult Canadians under 35 are much more likely to agree that it’s the government’s job to help people, rather than their own responsibility, with 42 percent agreeing with that sentiment compared to 27 percent of Canadians over the age of 55.

Ninety-one percent of older Canadians agree that wearing a mask to help vulnerable people is not too much to ask, compared to just 69 percent of Canadians under the age of 35.

In one of the largest disparities by age, 60 percent of adult Canadians under the age of 35 agree that they’d like to help others, but first need to help themselves. Only 34 percent of Canadians over the age of 55 agree with that statement.

Fifty-three percent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 also say they no longer feel connected to their community or society compared to 39 percent of Canadians over the age of 55.

While Poilievre has tried to strike a balance between reflecting and echoing the anxiety of Canadians and offering a competing, positive vision, there is an effort underway to infuse the conservative movement with more undiluted optimism.

A monthly discussion, produced by the Canada Strong and Free Network and hosted by CSFN president Jamil Jivani and Toronto entrepreneurs and Hub contributors Matt and Chris Spoke, called the Canadian Optimists aims to bring positive ideas and ambition into Canadian politics.

The first guest, Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, said it should be a natural fit for his own party and ideological allies across the country.

“I believe fundamentally we are the movement of optimism and we should never cede that to other parties, whether it’s any other party provincially or across Canada,” said McNaughton.

Because conservatism is so often a reaction to progressive ideas and policies, it can easily slide into pessimism, but McNaughton said it’s important to work against that impulse.

McNaughton has drawn praise for his work as labour minister in Ontario, which has sometimes been a diversion from conventional conservatism. He has reached out to blue collar union leaders and drawn some surprising union endorsements for his party in this year’s Ontario election, and he has proposed a “bill of rights” for gig workers.

McNaughton’s quest for blue collar workers has been sometimes portrayed as part of a broader ideological realignment in Canada, where professional class voters lean Left, while blue collar Canadians increasingly vote Conservative.

At the Canadian Optimists discussion, Matt Spoke said he wants to see the energy of entrepreneurship take hold in the country in order to solve big problems, like economic stagnation and climate change.

“What excites me about the world of entrepreneurship is a mentality of ambition, optimism, and vision for the future,” said Matt Spoke.

“The more we can take that and translate it into the way that we talk about political ideas and topics, and start to talk tactically about how we translate that into action, particularly within the conservative movement, I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about the future of Canada,” he said.

McNaughton differentiated between Canadians being optimistic about the fate of the country and being optimistic about their ability to change it.

“So as conservatives, we need to talk about long-term projects, the long-term (health) of our provinces or country. And this idea of building, I think, is really one that we can all rally behind,” said McNaughton.

This survey was conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panel. If you want your voice to be heard, you can join the LEO panel today.

Centre Ice Conservatives want new ideas, not a party split


The Centre Ice Conservatives, a group of self-described moderate conservatives gathering in Edmonton next week, have been playing a lot of defence lately.

There have been accusations they are plotting to undermine Conservative leadership frontrunner Pierre Poilievre, allegations that it’s the beginning of a movement to form a new “Red Tory” party, and critics have suggested the conference is simply in response to Poilievre’s “bad manners.

On all counts, the organizers plead not guilty.

But the nature of the conference does raise a key question: what even is a moderate conservative these days?

The advocacy group, co-founded by businessman Rick Peterson, describes itself as a platform for centre-right conservatives, and centrists in general, who feel marginalized in the political sphere. 

The group argues that Canadian politics are being dominated by the “woke” Left and the fringes on the populist Right, leaving the “majority of mainstream Canadians” without representation, a void that CIC hopes to help fill. 

“My concern is, right now, we have a political discourse that’s dominated by people on the Left and Right saying everything’s terrible and that nothing short of stripping everything down is going to make things better,” says Dominic Cardy, a CIC advisory council member, and cabinet minister in New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government. Before joining the PCs, Cardy was the leader of the New Democratic Party in New Brunswick.

Cardy says there are huge numbers of Canadians in the political centre who want to see institutions reformed, not torn down, but lack a voice.

It’s hard not to see this as a response to Poilievre, who has dominated the leadership race with a large social media presence and boisterous rhetoric about some of the country’s beleaguered institutions. He has promised, among other things, to replace the Bank of Canada’s governor and remove the “gatekeepers,” who he says hurt the aspirations of everyday Canadians. 

Bryan Brulotte is another member of CIC’s advisory council and also a supporter of Poilievre’s candidacy. He disagrees with the idea that “populism” is always a negative impulse, instead seeing it as an expression of the will of Canadians, or at least a large number of them.

“The tone that’s expressed sometimes, it is a tone of maybe exasperation or a sense of frustration that it’s not being heard,” says Brulotte.

Poilievre is known as a staunch fiscal conservative, but is also pro-choice and supports marriage equality. Brulotte agrees that Poilievre fits the mold of a centrist in some ways, believing it is possible for him to be both a populist and a centrist at the same time.

The Centre Ice Conservative gathering—officially dubbed the Let’s Grow, Canada! conference—boasts some well-known speakers, with the Globe and Mail’s Andrew Coyne, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Brian Lee Crowley, and University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz all scheduled to speak. Former B.C. premier Christy Clark will be the keynote speaker at the event on Aug. 11.

The key question for attendees will be whether the Conservatives can veer to the centre without losing too many voters on the Right.

In an upcoming episode of Hub Dialogues, Tasha Kheiriddin, another member of the CIC’s advisory council and campaign co-chair for Jean Charest, cites the old Conservative Party of Sir John A. Macdonald as a model. She said Macdonald strove for progress that was guided by conservative ideas and the goal of national unity.

“I’d like to see our party look like that, I’d like to see our party be that big tent that can address issues of unity, but also focus on economic development and inflation,” said Kheirridin.

Her words come at a time when the province of Quebec’s nationalist government is re-asserting autonomy from the federal government. Meanwhile, candidates for the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party debate about an “Alberta Sovereignty Act.” 

Kheiriddin says that while conservatives of all kinds tend to unite around economic policies, there is more to conservatism than that.

“There are other elements of conservatism that are also incredibly important, freedom of the individual and freedom of speech, personal freedoms and liberties, but also a sense of community,” says Kheiriddin.

For Brulotte, the ideal scenario is a Poilievre-led Conservative Party that is infused with ideas from a lively faction of moderates. He believes CIC has a role to play in conservative politics when the leadership race ends on September 10 and says he wants a big-tent Conservative Party, not a fractured one.

“I think that the CIC, what it does, is it represents an engaged group of concerned conservatives who want to make sure that a centrist position is heard within the existing Conservative Party today,” says Brulotte. “And as in any party, at the end of the day, we follow the leader, and we stick together, because united, we’re stronger than divided.”