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The future of the Conservative Party is more diverse (with a few caveats)


Shuvaloy Majumdar and Jamil Jivani don’t mind being written about as the diverse future of the Conservative Party, except for a few caveats.

First, their conservative cred comes before their identity.

“I am Indian origin. But I also am a conservative and have been part of the conservative movement since my early 20s,” said Majumdar, in an interview with The Hub after winning a byelection in the Calgary Heritage riding.

“It’s interesting how people thrust their labels onto you and put their aspirations onto you. This is a party that celebrates merit and accomplishment,” said Majumdar.

Majumdar doesn’t buy the premise that the Conservative Party has a diversity problem, but some party insiders are concerned.

Dan Robertson, the chief strategist for the 2021 Conservative general election campaign and the founder of Pathos Strategy, said the exit polls coming out of the most recent election showed new Canadians and minorities were extremely suspicious of the Conservatives, even fearful.

“It’s not even that the Conservatives are just a party of a bunch of old rural White guys,” said Robertson. “It’s that they actually think we actively dislike them.”

Robertson said a better job of candidate recruitment could go a long way to reversing that trend.

Jivani, who is running for the Conservative nomination in Durham, a Greater Toronto Area riding, for an upcoming but yet to be called byelection, has always been comfortable writing and speaking about his identity, in part because he has been on the frontlines of the culture war as an author, radio host, and political commentator.

He still talks with an annoyed bewilderment about the time he made national headlines for a tweet arguing that it’s probably a bad idea to defund the police. When the CBC published a news story about his comments, it also embedded tweets exclusively of people harshly criticizing Jivani throughout the piece. The same week, the Globe and Mail published a story accusing Jivani, whose father is Black, of “anti-Blackness” for his tweets about the “gangster images” in hip hop music.

Jivani isn’t uncomfortable with the idea that he can be a role model, especially for young Canadians who might be worried about going against the ideological grain. It’s not uncommon for Jivani to see his opinions described as a “betrayal” by activists on the other side of the argument.

“I understand that diversity is important. I understand that, especially for representing people, which is what politics is supposed to be about. You want to have people of different walks of life, different life experiences as part of the political process, representing different points of view,” said Jivani, in an interview with The Hub.

“However, what I think is important is pushing back against tokenization,” said Jivani.

Representation and diversity are important, but it’s also important to have people running “who are accomplished and well-deserving of the opportunities they have earned,” he said.

Both men point to the grassroots foundation of the Conservative Party that demands open nominations and is suspicious of even mild favouritism from party brass in local nominations.

“This riding that I represent now was not gifted to me, I had to work for it. I had a contested nomination and I had a byelection,” said Majumdar.

“I wasn’t successful among conservatives in the nomination because of the fact that I come from an Indian-origin immigrant family. I was successful because I stand as a strong conservative,” he said.

It’s a strange quirk of fate that the ridings that used to belong to former prime minister Stephen Harper and former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole came up for byelections within a matter of months this year. With Majumdar already elected as an MP and Jivani vying for the chance to gain a seat in the House of Commons, the party leadership is literally stepping aside for the future of the party.

And that Majumdar and Jivani were contending for these seats at the same time is a coincidence, but no surprise. In different ways, they are both products of the conservative movement, with Jivani fresh from a stint running the Canada Strong and Free Network and Majumdar jumping into politics after leading the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s foreign policy and national security program and previously working in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

On diversity, the Conservative Party may be a lagging indicator of the conservative movement, which is more diverse and energetic than ever before, said Robertson.

And it’s hard to understate the difficulty that the Conservative Party has been having with minority voters and new Canadians, said Robertson.

“We have taken on board real damage with minority voters. All the work that was done up to 2011 by the Harper government and the initiatives that Jason Kenney undertook, were basically set back to zero in the 2015 election and since,” said Robertson.

“Without dealing with this problem, there might be a path to winning government, but there’s not a path to winning a majority government,” he said.

Robertson said exit polling after the 2011 election showed that non-White voters were 39 percent less likely to vote for the Conservatives than White voters.

“That’s a big problem. That’s a super big problem,” said Robertson.

Shuvaloy Majumdar is greeted by supporters after winning the Calgary Heritage byelection on July 24, 2023. Todd Korol/The Canadian Press.

Jivani said his life experiences, such as growing up in a single-parent home will give him a different perspective on, for example, inflation and interest rate hikes.

“There are lots of different ways you can look at these issues. I come at it from a conservative point of view. But I also come at it from a point of view of someone who was raised in a single-parent household and has a Protestant mom and a Muslim dad and a White mom and a Black dad, and someone who grew up in the suburbs of Toronto. All those other things informed my point of view,” said Jivani.

While the Conservatives may be making progress on one side of the ledger, it’s notable that none of these new candidates are women. It is indicative of a larger trend in Canadian politics.

Recent polling shows a growing ideological divide between men and women, with men increasingly leaning towards the Conservatives and women shifting towards the two major progressive parties.

While recent polling has shown the Conservatives building a lead over the Liberals, sometimes by as much as 10 points, the party continues to poll much higher with men. A recent poll by Ipsos showed the party taking 41 percent of male voters compared to 30 percent of female voters.

Young voters in particular are highly polarized along gender lines. A March poll by the Angus Reid Institute showed the Conservatives appealing to 40 percent of men aged 18 to 34, while only 20 percent of women in that age group. Conversely, the NDP polled at 44 percent of young women and only 25 percent of young men.

Robertson believes this kind of gender polarization means the Conservatives have a narrow path to victory and will suffer in an election that doesn’t entirely revolve around the cost of living.

“The Liberals are extremely focused on female voters and are signalling to them non-stop,” said Robertson.

“I’m convinced that if the economy and pocketbook issues are the dominant vote-driving issues in the election the Conservatives are going to win. But if they’re not, anything could happen.”

The obvious strategy for the Liberals, Robertson believes, will be to spark a culture war and “diminish the salience of economic and pocketbook issues.”

In other words, get ready to start hearing about abortion around the time of the next election.

While Majumdar and Jivani may be a sign of a younger, more diverse Conservative Party, they may also be living proof of an ongoing realignment among voters.

Conservatives have increasingly been making inroads with blue-collar workers and with the unions that represent them, first with O’Toole’s campaign in 2021 and then, strikingly, in Doug Ford’s majority victory in Ontario, where he managed to poach blue-collar, industrial seats from the NDP.

While conservative intellectuals talk about an ideological realignment in theoretical terms, Jivani believes his life story is a real-world example of shifting voter blocs.

“So when we talk about realignment, I want to represent a working middle-class perspective on our society, on economics, on social issues, on cultural issues. I want to make sure that when we talk about these issues we’re accounting for how people are living life in the country,” said Jivani.

He doesn’t buy the premise that the Liberals own cultural issues, especially when it comes to blue-collar Canadians who may be tired of hearing about them. Both men see an opportunity in the Liberal devotion to identity politics and social justice ideas.

Majumdar said he wants to replace “social justice with social mobility.”

Jivani wants to challenge it.

“The reality is if you’re running around saying things like White privilege, you are basically saying the majority of the working and middle class and Canada is privileged,” said Jivani.

“That is not acceptable to talk about people in a way that dismisses the reality of life in this country.”

In a troubling sign for Trudeau’s Liberals, the Atlantic ‘red wall’ looks less sturdy


In what could be a troubling sign for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a byelection this week in Nova Scotia, fraught with debate about the carbon tax and the state of the Liberal brand, ended in a once-safe provincial Liberal seat being lost in a landslide to the Progressive Conservatives.

As the federal Liberals grapple with the soaring cost of living and sagging poll numbers, political veterans across the Atlantic provinces say the byelection result could be a sign of things to come across Canada.

“It’s not uncommon for perhaps a swing riding to flip in a byelection, but for what had been a relatively safe seat to flip is something bigger,” says Stephen Moore, who served as director of communications for former Nova Scotia Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil. 

The riding of Preston had been held by the Nova Scotia Liberals for the last 20 years, but the byelection saw their support collapse with the Liberal candidate placing third behind the Progressive Conservative winner and the NDP runner-up.  

The Progressive Conservatives heavily focused on criticizing what they described as the “Liberal carbon tax,” which PC Premier Tim Houston has been vocally opposed to. 

Chad Bowie, a Conservative consultant and political commentator, says federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, a staunch critic of carbon taxes, has reason to be encouraged by the Preston byelection result. 

“We know that the Liberal carbon tax was a key issue in this byelection, and one of the key vote drivers, so of course, I think there could be ramifications. Perhaps even a sign of things to come,” says Bowie. 

There have increasingly been signs that Atlantic Canada, which was a stronghold for the Liberals in the 2015 election and has mostly stayed red since, is wavering. A recent poll by Abacus Data found the Liberals in the unenviable spot of lagging behind in all regions of the country, with the Conservatives leading in Atlantic Canada and the Bloc Québécois leading in Quebec.

There are also signs the Liberals are circling the wagons in ridings and regions that have previously been bulwarks. Both cabinet ministers from Newfoundland and Labrador were retained with increased portfolios. The Nova Scotian MP Sean Fraser was promoted to housing, one of the most visible and thorny cabinet jobs as the country copes with a housing crisis.

And as ire on the east coast about the carbon tax mixes with general frustration about inflation and the cost of living, the Conservatives could see an opportunity to tear down the Liberal “red wall” in the Atlantic provinces.

“I do think that the Tory decision to call the byelection just as the federal carbon tax was coming into place was likely a wise political calculation on their part, but certainly one that would have stung the Liberal brand,” says Moore. 

David Tarrant lauds Twila Gross, the PC challenger in Preston, for a strong campaign but says external factors also helped turn Preston’s voters against the Liberals.

“The biggest additional force is, without question, the carbon tax,” says Tarrant. “This summer for the first time, Nova Scotians felt the full vice of the Trudeau Liberal carbon tax, with immense pressure and pain to peoples’ cost of living, and the rather indifferent response from the federal government and the prime minister has massively damaged the Liberal brand in Nova Scotia.” 

A recent Nanos Research poll found 73 percent of Canadians surveyed in Atlantic Canada believe it is the wrong time to implement a carbon tax. Canada-wide, the poll found just 32 percent of Canadians surveyed believe carbon taxes are an effective way to reduce carbon emissions.  

Unlike the Ontario Liberals, who are operationally independent of the federal Liberals despite strong grassroots ties, the Nova Scotia Liberals are an official branch of the federal party. The NSPCs and the federal Conservative parties are not organizationally linked, even if both parties’ members hold overlapping memberships. 

“I think the big lesson from the byelection is two-fold,” says Bowie. “First, Tim Houston’s brand of progressive, pragmatic conservatism is a winning formula in Nova Scotia, and secondly, Zach Churchill has a Justin Trudeau problem.” 

Tarrant says Preston’s voters did not differentiate between the provincial and federal Liberal parties when it came to their frustrations about the carbon tax. 

“A key issue that the PCs ran on was the carbon tax and gas prices, and the people I talked to said it was getting amazing traction,” says Tarrant. “No other single issue drove this more than the carbon tax.” 

Tarrant says the negative reaction to the federal carbon tax will be felt in all parts of Canada, with the exceptions of B.C. and Quebec which implemented their own provincial carbon taxes years ago. 

“In every other part of the country, particularly rural, suburban, small town parts, if I’m a federal Liberal caucus member, the number one drag on the LPC right now is the carbon tax,” says Tarrant. “It’s gonna cost them seats… if I’m a provincial Liberal, one of my big strategic dilemmas is how do I separate myself from the national party?”