This month saw several new leaders on the Canadian political scene, notably an NDP Premier in Alberta, Rachel Notley, and a new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Conservative MP for Barrie, Patrick Brown. Despite being both on different sides of the country and from distinctly different parties, Canada’s new leaders had surprisingly similar things to say.
Long rumoured to be Canada’s most conservative province after having once tried to enact the Not-Withstanding Clause over recognizing same-sex marriage and sexual orientation under the Charter, Alberta has suddenly jumped to the left. Meanwhile, Ontario has stepped to the right. It might take a couple rounds of the Time Warp to figure out how all this happened. Brown has been accused of being a staunch social conservative; the Liberal Party of Ontario has wasted no time (and a lot of money, as per usual) to paint him as a radical right wing, Mike Harris-esque, Tea Party wannabee.
His election may have been the result of a knee jerk reaction to the election of the supposedly left-wing NDP in Alberta, an outcome that has shaken conservatives and businesses to the core, particularly in the Oil Patch. Some companies have already started contemplating moves elsewhere (even though the Notley Crew has yet to be sworn in). They need to give their political virgin MLAs the chance to graduate from Good Party Member School first.
Brown was swept into the hallowed office of Leader of the OPC without a seat in the legislature at Queen’s Park, Rachel Notley met with her caucus and reporters before Alberta’s Government House. In retrospect, it seems that both delivered the same message (almost word for word), despite the thousands of miles standing between them physically and politically.
Both leaders noted that they won their campaigns with support from the diversity of their provinces and explained that their party membership (or government caucus) now reflects the makeup of the province. Brown listed the walks of life from which came his new OPC supporters, and Notley provided almost the exact same list (teachers, nurses, small business owners). Notley made certain to highlight that the median age of her caucus reflected the median age of her province, while Brown likewise highlighted the large number of youth he’d been able to convince to join the OPC. Neither party touched upon the environment (something they both avoided during their campaigns), and both flirted around pipelines while refraining from giving details about how they would deal with industry.
Perhaps their speeches merely represent the plastic words used by all politicians, but, even if that is the case, doesn’t that suggest that the two parties (despite the vague designations of right and left) have more in common than either leader would like to admit? Keeping the Federal NDP at arm’s length, dancing around questions of pipelines and the environment, Notley may proceed with the centrist approach that Western NDP governments have taken before. Brown, despite accusations of being a social conservative explicitly stated that the OPC does not have a monopoly on good ideas (something that Stephen Harper and company would normally disagree with) and, more explicitly than Notley, stipulated his willingness to hear from across the aisle.
Only time will tell if intense partisanship is at an end, as Brown suggested it was after his victory. With a majority, Notley will be the first to prove or disprove that fact since she doesn’t need consensus for four years. At 36 years old Brown is 6 years younger than Justin Trudeau, suggesting that (at least to conservatives) Premier of Ontario can be an entry level position even if Prime Minister of Canada can’t be.