Is the Conservative Party of Canada Finished? A New Series – Part 1: Introduction

Since Justin Trudeau’s victory as Liberal leader, his party has been ahead or tied with the Conservatives in almost all polling released since April.  With this sustained Liberal revival has come discussion and debate about whether the Conservatives can be re-elected in 2015.

At around 30% in the polls, the Conservative Party is at a low point in terms of public support.  The party has been in power for seven years and by 2015, will have been in power for nine.  Stephen Harper is Canada’s nine longest serving Prime Minister and will be the sixth longest serving Prime Minister by the time the 2015 election rolls around.

So is the Conservative Party finished?

Looking at public opinion data its clear the Tories face a number of challenges.  But that same data indicates that the NDP and Liberal Party also have vulnerabilities and challenges before either of them can take advantage of a weakened Conservative brand.  This makes it difficult for me to write-off a 2015 Tory majority victory.

A Special Abacus Insider Series: Is the Conservative Party Finished?

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to focus on the challenges the Conservative Party of Canada faces in trying winning a fourth mandate in 2015.

My analysis will be based on a framework taken from a study of the Conservative Party in Britain written in 1996 as well as data from Abacus Data surveys, Elections Canada, and other sources.

The Analytic Framework

I started reading a great book by political scientist Tim Bale on the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom called “The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron“.  In it, Bale charts the decline and rise of the British Conservative Party from the year Margaret Thatcher was removed as party leader to the emergence of David Cameron’s rise to power after winning a minority government in 2010.

The book cites an earlier study on the British Conservatives in power and in particular, the conditions that cause Tory governments to lose elections.

This historical analysis of the fall of Tory administrations in Britain since 1783 (Seldon, “How Tory Governments Fail: The Tory Party in Power Since 1783”, 1996) will form the basis of my analysis over the next two weeks and is not unlike the influential work of Canadian political scientist George Perlin in “The Tory Syndrome: Leadership politics in the Progressive Conservative Party”.

Seldon found a number of common factors existed in each case whether the British Conservative Party was defeated or lost an election.  These included:

  1. A failure of leadership and a negative image of the party leader.
  2. Confusion over policy direction.
  3. Manifest internal disunity between parliamentarians, party staff, and cabinet.
  4. A revived and credible opposition.
  5. A hostile intellectual or media environment.
  6. Concern over the party’s management of the economy.
  7. Depleted party finance.
  8. Organizational sclerosis.
  9. Strength of feeling of “time for a change”.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll investigate whether each of these nine conditions exist in Canada and how we might look for them.  My goal is to offer an objective, empirically based analysis of the state of the Conservative Party and I think Seldon’s nine conditions provides a nice theoretical framework to lead the investigation and discussion.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248



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