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Contorted energy politics of the Ukraine crisis (commentary) – Mongabay.com

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  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven energy prices to the highest levels in years, spurring a global energy crisis.
  • Nikolas Kozloff, a writer who authored “No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet,” examines America’s response, which he argues is so far shaping up to be a missed opportunity to transition toward greener energy sources.
  • “The Ukraine crisis has the potential to finally nudge the world towards a long overdue clean energy future,” he writes. “However, the Biden administration seems to have calculated that pursuing short-term political gains must take priority.”
  • This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

However horrific, the Ukraine crisis has the potential to finally nudge the world towards a long overdue clean energy future.  As one of the world’s top three suppliers of fossil fuels, Russia has contributed to the climate emergency, and the Kremlin has taken advantage of dirty profits to fund its war on Kyiv.  To its credit, the Biden administration has banned Russian energy imports, and analysts believe the Ukraine crisis has the potential to “fast-track” renewable energy, while leading to a “tectonic shift” addressing climate change.  Unfortunately, however, the Biden administration seems to have calculated that pursuing short-term political gains must take priority.

Moves to cut off Russian oil and gas have led to an increase in prices, and this has prompted the White House to tap reserves.  Moreover, to the dismay of environmentalists, the Biden administration has called for oil and gas production to be ramped up.  Somewhat jarringly, the same president who previously campaigned on reining in global warming has now decided to sacrifice climate goals in the name of keeping gas prices low, a reflection no doubt of impending congressional elections.  As the Biden administration retreats from a robust discussion of climate change — emphasizing instead the notion of “energy security” — and approves new oil and gas permits on federal land, fossil fuel executives have seized  the moment by pushing through new infrastructure projects.

Residential building in Kyiv after shelling on March 14, 2022 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo credit: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

Furthermore, the Ukraine crisis has sidelined Biden’s signature Build Back Better act, which in any case has been stripped of its most important climate provisions.  Even as some “climate hawk” Democrats have sought to capitalize on the war in Ukraine by cutting off Putin’s energy exports, thereby aligning themselves with traditional foreign policy hawks, the party has agreed to higher military spending while dropping a bid to rapidly pull back on fossil fuels, with some going so far as joining Republicans, who have embraced an energy strategy predicated not just on renewables, but also on oil and gas.  Indeed, mainstream Democrats now discordantly regard natural gas as a so-called “bridge” fuel to clean energy, and not anathema for the environment.

Even more incongruously, the White House has pursued a charm offensive towards Venezuela, an isolated dictatorship which is under sanctions, and Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian monarchy which has been tarnished by human rights abuses, so as to increase gas exports, replace Russia’s oil output and lower prices for American consumers.  However, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) have played a leading role in the disastrous war in Yemen, which has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe and killed almost a quarter million people.  As a candidate, Biden pledged to make Saudi Arabia “a pariah” over rights abuses and the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  Such campaign promises, however, completely crumbled once oil prices shot up, and Yemen, it seemed, was quickly forgotten.  Additionally, the president’s outreach to Riyadh has strained relations with progressive members of his own party.

Altamont wind farm in California. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
Altamont wind farm in California. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

It’s not even clear whether the president’s overtures will bear fruit: though the White House announced it was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss global oil supply, the kingdom has declined to increase production.  Observers believe Riyadh is reluctant to ramp up output too quickly, and in any case Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who faces multiple lawsuits in the U.S., including over the killing of Khashoggi, is reportedly screening Biden’s phone calls.  Perhaps that isn’t surprising, given that Saudi Arabia carefully weighs its links with the U.S. in relation to its economic and military ties to Russia.  Moscow and Riyadh lead OPEC, the world’s oil cartel, and Saudi Arabia has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  The U.S. has fared little better with the U.A.E., which has signed arms deals with Russia, depends on Russian tourism, and refuses to condemn Moscow when it comes to United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Faced with an unpromising milieu in the Middle East, Washington has been “scouring the world” to replace Russian crude.  Administration officials have flown to Caracas to discuss easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil, which is ironic since Washington does not recognize Nicolás Maduro as a legitimate president.  Though Russian ally Venezuela used to export a significant amount of oil to the U.S., that ended when Washington sanctioned Caracas over human rights abuses and undermining democracy.  Like MBS, dealing with Maduro carries baggage, since the latter has been indicted for drug trafficking, amongst other charges.  Despite shuttle diplomacy, analysts are skeptical in any case that Venezuela, with its deteriorating oil infrastructure, could make up for the shortfall in Russian crude.  And, just as Biden’s outreach to Saudi Arabia angered progressive critics, White House negotiations with Venezuela have miffed the political right.

Lithium evaporation ponds in Salar de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile. Source: NASA. Image processing by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
Lithium evaporation ponds in Salar de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile. Source: NASA. Image processing by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

Facing diminishing returns, Biden could also open negotiations with Iran, though that country is also under sanctions.  If a 2015 nuclear accord is restored, Iran could once again reenter oil markets, though in a further ironic twist, both Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. view such talks warily.  Taken as a whole, what should we make of such foreign policy contortions?  While conservatives view foreign policy compromise as necessary, some have noted how the humanitarian disaster in Yemen has been superseded by Ukraine, while others regard the Saudi embrace as unjustified, even if such moves are designed to confront Russia.  When it comes to climate, meanwhile, progressives believe the White House should take advantage of the Ukraine crisis to promote a green transition, rather than relying on human rights-abusing energy exporters.  While it may not be easy, achieving such a transition could be accomplished, perhaps, through forceful leadership.

The Author: Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet, as well as scores of articles about the environment.

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Trump's obsession with 2020 weighs on his political power — and his political future – CNN

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(CNN)Fixated on relitigating the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump has often argued since leaving office that Republicans cannot have a successful future — either at the ballot box or legislatively — if they turn a blind eye to the past.

But this week, primary voters in Georgia appeared to firmly reject that approach. Voting overwhelmingly for two key Republicans — Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — who have flatly dismissed Trump’s false claims about election fraud, Republicans in the Peach State sent a clear signal to the former President that his continued obsession with 2020 is not only bad for his preferred candidates but could be a liability for him in key battleground states as he considers another presidential bid in 2024.
“Georgia was a valuable lesson. Trump has found that he’s altered the rules of politics, but not all the rules of politics,” said Bryan Lanza, a former Trump aide who remains close to the ex-President.
Whether Trump internalizes any critical lessons at this juncture remains to be seen, however. Although he is far less likely “to stick his neck out” with endorsements in upcoming primaries following a string of defeats and the still-uncertain outcome of Pennsylvania’s Senate GOP primary, said one former Trump aide, he has shown no indication that he intends to recalibrate his approach amid Tuesday’s setbacks — even as those around him admit that a course correction might be necessary if he wants to stand a chance in a future presidential contest.
“A very big and successful evening of political Endorsements,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social website Wednesday, hours after Kemp and Raffensberger soundly defeated their Trump-backed challengers, former Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Jody Hice.
“It was a bad night for revenge and Georgia was his ultimate revenge stop,” said one Trump adviser.
The adviser also noted that Trump “made a strategic mistake abandoning Mo Brooks,” the Alabama Senate GOP candidate who advanced to a runoff contest on Tuesday despite losing the former President’s endorsement just two months prior over his repeated calls for Republican voters to move beyond the 2020 election.
Multiple Trump allies and advisers who spoke with CNN on the condition of anonymity said the defeats the former President has suffered this month — in Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska and North Carolina — would typically force anyone to reevaluate their strategy, but that Trump is notoriously resistant to acknowledging weakness or error.
He will “just plow forward like he always does,” said one former Trump campaign official.
Another former top campaign aide to Trump said Georgia should teach the former President that he can’t deploy a one-size-fits-all approach to every Republican primary, especially when he is going up against popular incumbents. A Fox News poll released just days before Tuesday’s primary showed Kemp with a net-positive approval rating of 46 percent among Republican primary voters in the state.
“Going after an incumbent in a southern state like Georgia is fraught with danger. Local politics matter and dominate,” the aide said.
“Some states are so insular politically,” this person added, “that voters take exception to anyone trying to come into their state and tell them what to do.”
Meanwhile, the former head of Trump’s 2016 Georgia campaign operation had some choice words for MAGA candidates who centered their campaigns around the former President instead of local and statewide issues.
“So come to find out, running an issueless campaign… isn’t a winning strategy,” tweeted Seth Weathers, a Georgia Republican strategist who oversaw Trump’s field effort in Georgia during his first presidential run.
Weathers also criticized Hice, Trump’s pick in the secretary of state race. While Hice followed the former President’s lead, Raffensberger described Trump’s claims about fraudulent election activities in Georgia as “just plain wrong” in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election and held to it in the year and a half since. His office has also cooperated with a special grand jury that is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia.
Raffensperger won the primary handily.
“[Hice] seemed to take the same bad strategy, just not as bad as Perdue,” Weathers said, adding that Raffensberger “also ran nonstop ads trashing [Hice] and I didn’t see him respond in kind.”
Trump, who boasted about “record turnout” in Georgia ahead of the primary on Tuesday, has not yet commented on the collapse of his preferred statewide candidates. In addition to Hice and Perdue, Trump-backed challengers to Insurance Commissioner John King and Attorney General Chris Carr failed to oust their opponents.

Looking ahead to a potential run

Despite Trump’s continuous peddling of lies about the past election and his resistance to a midterm message that is less backwards-looking, there is one notable area where he has been eager to talk about the future.
Over the past few weeks, the former President has been chatting up friends and advisers about the looming 2024 presidential contest, including taking their temperature on an earlier-than-expected campaign announcement.
Trump has repeatedly told his supporters — from the throngs of MAGA devotees who have shown up at his midterm rallies to top allies in conservative media — that they will be very happy with his ultimate decision on 2024. And aides to the former President, who would be 76 years old during a third presidential campaign, tend to universally agree that he will run again barring any major changes to his health.
While many of those same aides were under the impression that Trump would wait until after the November midterms to reveal his next move, he has recently solicited their thoughts on entering the fray sooner. One Trump adviser, who noted that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced he would “actively explore” a presidential bid just one month after the 2014 midterms, said Trump has been thinking about launching an exploratory committee in October — just before this year’s midterm contest.
“In the last month, people have been telling him it may be smart to announce in October because we will be pretty certain by then whether Republicans are going to take over both chambers and he will become more of a topic related to the midterms and how he helped make that happen,” the adviser said.
This person said Trump already plans to be on the campaign trail frequently later this summer “and it wouldn’t be difficult to add a campaign rollout to all of that.”
“He’s always been an impatient person and he wants to start his political operation sooner,” the adviser added.
A second Trump adviser, who said the odds of Trump launching an exploratory committee prior to the November 8 midterm elections were “50/50,” claimed the former President remains in the early stages of determining the best timing for such an announcement. Trump has been closely tracking President Joe Biden’s poll numbers as he looks for any openings with independents and suburban voters who fled the GOP in 2020.
“If he thinks it will help him, he will do it before November. If he concludes it’s better for him to wait, he’ll wait,” the adviser said.
But there may be a second reason for Trump’s impatience.
As his once sterling endorsement record has unraveled this month, Trump has grown increasingly aware of the other GOP power players who are eyeing the party’s presidential nomination in two years. In addition to Kemp and Raffensberger defeating their Trump-endorsed opponents on Tuesday, Trump’s picks in gubernatorial primaries in Nebraska and Idaho earlier this month also lost, and he was dealt another unexpected blow when Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who Trump had publicly vouched for as the freshman congressman battled numerous scandals, lost his primary to North Carolina state Sen. Chuck Edwards.
In the midst of these defeats, the former President has been paying close attention to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose popularity has soared among Trump’s own base amid his recent clashes with the progressive left.
Trump has also kept watch on his one-time vice president, Mike Pence, who actively campaigned for Kemp in the closing days of the Georgia gubernatorial primary, and his former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who endorsed David McCormick in the Pennsylvania Senate primary, which is heading to a recount as McCormick remains deadlocked against his Trump-endorsed opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
“Having read ‘The Art of War,’ one of the rules there is that the greatest victory is defeating your opponents without having to have a fight. Trump is well aware of that passage,” one of the Trump advisers said.

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Politics Briefing: Canada Soccer calls off Iran game after criticism over Flight PS752 – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Canada Soccer has cancelled a planned friendly with Iran in the face of growing criticism that included concerns raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In a one-paragraph statement issued on Thursday, the governing body gave no reason for the cancellation of the scheduled June 5 game at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.

At issue is whether Canada should be hosting Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.

Mr. Trudeau has said the game “wasn’t a very good idea,” and suggested that it would be up to the Canada Border Services Agency whether the Iran team is allowed into the country. Conservative MPs also added their voices to the protest.

The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”

There’s a full story here on the situation.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MAY PARTICIPATE IN COURT CHALLENGE OF QUEBEC LAWThe federal government will participate in a challenge of Quebec’s controversial religious symbols law, known as Bill 21, should the case end up at the Supreme Court, Justice Minister David Lametti said Wednesday, prompting swift pushback from Quebec’s Premier. Story here.

UN OFFICIAL TO INVESTIGATE INDIGENOUS HUMAN RIGHTS IN CANADA – United Nations special rapporteur is planning a Canadian trip to examine the “overall human-rights situation” of Indigenous people in light of the discoveries of possible unmarked graves near former residential schools. Story here.

MANURE PROTEST AT JOHN HORGAN’S CONSTITUENCY OFFICE – Police say they are investigating manure left at the front doors of Premier John Horgan’s local constituency office in Langford, B.C. Story here.

CANADA FUNDS PROBE OF SEX CRIMES BY RUSSIANS IN UKRAINE – Canada is committing an extra $1-million to help the international community investigate sex crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine. Story here.

CANADA NEEDS TO INCREASE MILITARY SPENDING: U.S. AMBASSADOR – The Liberals talked a bigger game than they delivered in the spring budget, America’s Ambassador David Cohen says, arguing Canada still needs to increase military spending to reflect current global realities. Story here from The National Post.

WESTERN PREMIERS MEETING ON FRIDAY – Canada’s Western premiers are meeting in Regina on Friday and federal health transfers are expected to be the top item on the list. The meeting was virtual in 2021. Story here from CBC.

ORDER OF CANADA FOR SINCLAIR – Murray Sinclair received the Order of Canada Thursday for dedicating his life to championing Indigenous Peoples’ rights and freedoms. Story here.

B.C. GOVERNMENT EXPLAINS PLANS FOR $789.5M MUSEUM – The B.C. government has presented a business case for a new Royal BC Museum, which shows the $789.5-million cost of building a new museum on the current site in Victoria would be lower than repairing or upgrading the existing facilities. Story here.

ONTARIO ELECTION – Doug Ford is the top choice in the Ontario election on pocketbook issues, according to a new poll that also shows a large majority of respondents are uncomfortable with building homes on farmland and green space as a way to bring down housing costs. Story here. Meanwhile, in ONTARIO ELECTION TODAY: Party leaders target key ridings and issues with June 2 vote just a week away. And you can subscribe here to Vote of Confidence, The Globe and Mail’s twice-weekly newsletter focused on the 2022 Ontario election.

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE.

FINAL SCHEDULED CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP DEBATE Conservative leadership candidates attacked their opponents’ ethics during the only official French-language debate on Wednesday night, with Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre and Patrick Brown highlighting past controversies, while also sparring over how to tackle the cost of living and protect the French language. Story here.

BROWN AND CHAREST DENY ANY AGREEMENT -Jean Charest and Patrick Brown say they are friends, but have no agreement to support each other’s campaigns in the Conservative leadership race.

Still, the pair have not been criticizing each other in the sometimes raucous debates among candidates seeking to lead the party.

The issue arose Wednesday night after the French-language leadership debate in Laval, Que. The former Quebec premier and Brampton, Ont., mayor were the only candidates, out of six, to meet with the media.

“We are friends. We have known each other for years. He came into politics with me when he was 15 years old,” Mr. Charest told journalists.

But Mr. Charest added, “There is no agreement among both camps, and he is campaigning very vigorously. I do not underestimate Patrick Brown.”

Mr. Brown declared there is no “gentleman’s agreement,” but that he has a friendship with Mr. Charest as with Leslyn Lewis, Roman Baber and Scott Aitchison.

He said he has differences of opinion with Pierre Poilievre, but has known him for awhile. Of his approach to the leadership race, Mr. Brown said the Ottawa MP is taking positions popular in some “corners of the country,” but added, “I think if Pierre Poilievre wins this leadership, we’ve already lost the next election.”

He noted that he was a volunteer for Mr. Charest in the 1995 Quebec referendum when Mr. Charest was Progressive Conservative leader. “Canadians owe him a debt of gratitude.”

THIS AND THAT

TODAY IN THE COMMONS – The House has adjourned until Monday, May 30.

NEW CLERK OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL – Janice Charette will take over as the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, effective Saturday, after more than a year holding the title, which includes being head of the federal public service, on an interim basis. Ms. Charette, formerly Canada’s high commissioner in the United Kingdom, replaces Ian Shugart, who has been on medical leave and is retiring. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the news in a statement here and there’s information here on the role of the clerk, and those associated with the post.

NEW ROLE FOR MARK CARNEY – Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has agreed to serve as the chair for a new advisory board of the Canada 2020 progressive think tank. The board will be focused on ambitious progressive public policy solutions as Canada looks ahead from the pandemic. Mr. Carney who was also governor of the Bank of England is also now serving as the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change and Finance, and vice chair of Brookfield Asset Management.

THE DECIBEL

On Thursday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Shribman discusses how America has come to find itself stuck in the intolerable position that has led to guns being the number one killer of Americans under the age of 20. The discussion comes as the United States is grappling with another mass shooting, with at least 19 children and two adults killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., on Tuesday. This marks the 27th school shooting and the 213th mass shooting this year in the U.S. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

In Ottawa, the Prime Minister held private meetings and was scheduled to visit a local community service centre to meet with families impacted by the recent storm in the region, then visit a local grocery store in Quebec to meet with families affected by the storm. The Prime Minister was also scheduled to vote in the Ontario provincial election.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on the Conservative leadership race: Jean Charest calls out Pierre Poilievre’s populism, but stopping him seems unlikely: If there was a message Jean Charest wanted to get across, it was the one he left to the last minute of the last scheduled debate in the Conservative leadership campaign. Let’s call it his “Stop Pierre” speech. It was in what can be called Mr. Charest’s home turf, Laval, Que., in the French-language Conservative leadership debate. But it’s a good wager he’ll be repeating it in English, in other places. The dynamic is clear now: Pierre Poilievre is the front-runner, campaigning with a populist appeal, opposition to vaccine mandates, support for the trucker convoy and a pledge to fire “gatekeepers.” Mr. Charest is chasing.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on how the paranoid style in Conservative politics has deep roots: “Populism has deep roots in the Conservative Party, at least since John Diefenbaker gathered the disparate populist movements that had sprung up in the West under the Progressive Conservative banner. As the party of the “outs,” those who for one reason or another were excluded from the Liberal power consensus, it has always tended to attract its share of cranks – not just populists but crackpots. What’s different today? Three things. One, the targets of populist wrath are increasingly external to Canada: bodies like the WEF or the WHO, whose remoteness from any actual role in controlling our lives only makes them seem more darkly potent, to those primed to believe it. Two, the “outs” no longer simply reject a particular political narrative, but increasingly science, and reason, and knowledge: the anti-expertise, anti-authority rages of people who have been “doing their own research.” And three, the crackpopulists used to be consigned to the party’s margins. Now they are contending to lead it.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on why Pierre Poilievre is right: Fire the gatekeepers, starting with the lifelong politicians:The thing I like about Pierre Poilievre is that he says the things I’m thinking after I’ve stayed up all night drinking Red Bulls and watching Related Videos on YouTube. He will stand up to the Bill Gateses and Klaus Schwabs of the world, and ban ministers in his freest government ever from attending any World Economic Forum events (though they are still permitted to serve as his campaign co-chair). Mr. Poilievre understands the plight of the working man because he is the working man, with calluses on the sides of his pinkies where he rests his phone while texting. And really, is that so different from the hands of the truckers, the oil-rig workers, the brick masons he claims to represent? Are his Italian loafers so different from their steel-toe boots? Does his brow not bead with sweat after a hard day’s work when maintenance hasn’t gotten around to fixing the A/C?”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on Quebec’s Bill 96 being more of a paper tiger than an assault on English-language rights: “With the Quebec National Assembly’s adoption this week of Bill 96, which aims to strengthen protection for the French language in Quebec, Mr. Legault has again thrown anglophone voters under the bus to bolster his nationalist credentials in advance of the election. While the new language law overreaches in several ways, particularly in pre-emptively invoking the notwithstanding clause and allowing for warrantless searches by the language police, it is not the existential threat that some English-speaking critics make it out to be. It may in fact prove to be more of a paper tiger than a law with teeth. The CAQ’s bark is worse than its bite, and the new law is likely to end up being engulfed in its own contradictions.”

Lisa Van Dusen (Policy Magazine) on how there are moments when it’s hard to fathom that Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest are vying to lead the same party: “Watching the French debate as I write this, that’s the tension on display beneath the bouts of incoherent brawling, some of it in French dubbed “pénible” (painful) by Radio-Canada (except for Poilievre, who almost makes up for in fluency what he lacks in assonance, and Charest, who is bilingual/bicultural, accent-less in both languages). Charest is a serious politician with serious experience who finds himself vying to lead an entity that may or may not be willing to follow him. Poilievre is a canny chancer peddling an assortment of emotionally charged keywords, some of which are attached to ideas, others to fears and still others to threats. Which may be precisely what this Conservative Party of Canada wants.”

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With debates over, Conservative leadership candidate turns to final membership push

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OTTAWA — Now that the second official debate of the race is out of the way, Conservative leadership hopefuls will turn their attention to signing up as many supporters as they can before a fast-approaching deadline.

The party’s leadership election organizing committee says it is already breaking records for how many new members candidates have drawn in ahead of the June 3 cutoff date for new members being able to vote.As of last week, officials were bracing for a voting base of more than 400,000 members by the deadline.

In comparison, the party had nearly 270,000 members signed up to vote in its 2020 leadership contest.

The six candidates vying to replace former leader Erin O’Toole met on stage Wednesday for a French-language debate in Laval, Que. — a province where the Conservative Party of Canada has never won more than a dozen seats.

A rowdy crowd of several hundred booed and cheered throughout the night as candidates took turns lacing into each other’s records, including on controversial pieces of Quebec legislation.

Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, a perceived front-runner in the race who has been drawing large crowds at rallies across Canada, repeatedly stressed his opposition to the Quebec secularism law known as Bill 21, which prohibits certain public servants in positions of power from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Ontario mayor Patrick Brown — considered his main rivals — both accused Poilievre of not clearly stating his position on the law when speaking to Quebecers, which he denied.

Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis, as well as Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber, are also vying to be leader.

Grassroots Conservatives are looking for leadership candidates who can draw many new faces into the party, including in Quebec where membership numbers are low.

Under new rules adopted last year, a riding must have at least 100 members in order for candidates to nab the full amount of points available to them in the ranked-ballot system used to determine a winner.

A winner is chosen when a candidate earns more than 50 per cent of the votes. In the event they don’t, whoever earns the fewest number of votes nationally is dropped from the ballot and the votes they received are redistributed to whichever candidate was marked as their second choice.

Speaking to reporters following Wednesday’s debate, which saw Charest and Brown repeatedly attack Poilievre but not one another, Charest said Brown should not be underestimated in the race.

Entering as the mayor of Brampton, Ont., Brown had a reputation in Tory circles for his ability to organize from his time as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives.

He has spent the race criss-crossing the country, meeting with different immigrant and ethnic communities, encouraging them to take out a membership in the party to change Canada’s conservative movement.

Among those he’s focused his attention on are people from the Tamil, Chinese, Sikh, Nepalese, Filipino and Muslim communities.

Brown promises them a better seat at the political table and pledges to end the lottery system to make family reunification easier. He has also spent the last few weeks equating Poilievre’s name with two of the world’s most controversial right-wing leaders — former U.S. president Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, the far-right French politician who recently failed to win a general election.

“The guy I’m running against is trying to replicate what you’d call the Trump version of conservatism or the Le Pen version of conservatism,” Brown told Muslim community members in Surrey, B.C., last week.

In another recent address to a Muslim gathering in Burnaby, B.C., Brown took aim at the crowds Poilievre has been attracting.

“Sort of looks like a Trump rally,” he said, before criticizing the lack of racial diversity.

Brown made similar remarks during Wednesday’s debate when he accused Poilievre of trying to court the support of people akin to Pat King, a leading voice of the Ottawa convoy protest who has also espoused the so-called white replacement conspiracy theory.

Poilievre has denounced King’s remarks.

After Quebec, Poilievre was set to travel to New Brunswick, followed by Thunder Bay, Ont., Winnipeg and Saskatoon. He will bring his campaign message of “freedom” from everything from the cost of living to COVID-19 public-health restrictions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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