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Don Martin: The surface cracks uncomfortably as the Conservative leadership race begins

Two opposing political poles are tending to collide for the leadership of the Conservative party – and the winner could be the leader of the Liberal party.

Moderately experienced, decent, yet forgotten almost four decades after entering the federal war, former party leader and Quebec prime minister Jean Charest will officially enter the race in Calgary on Thursday. , certainly sports Stetson.

He faces the tough challenge of defeating Pierre Poilievre, a right-wing firefighter with two years of junior Harper cabinet experience, whose primary skill seems to be to deliver devastating and satirical clips. his unexpected opponents.

Put them together in a brass brawl and you have a nightmare clash for the Conservatives – and perhaps a dream match for the Liberals.

But consider the ‘award’ given to this leadership victory.

The Conservative caucus is hopelessly divided into far-right, centre-right and moderate factions, its members have too many antis and cowboys while some MPs are holding grudges from previous leaders, right down to those on the guest list. Wine cellar in Stormoway.

It is a deep long-term rift for a party that is expected to give up forming a government to replace tired Liberals under lackluster leadership.

If Charest wins, which seems doubtful, without much help from potential rival Patrick Brown’s membership sales, he will face an impossible task of mending the possible hedge. made Captain Canada’s attempt to reunify Canada after the referendum like child’s play.

He will face more than a few MPs and their bloodhounds, who have declared him unfit to lead the group for being so left out. Some of them may need to be kicked out of their homes to find a place in the People’s Party under Maxime Bernier which is getting worse and worse.

But that’s the easy part. The Radical Conservative Party he led in the mid-1990s ceased to exist, immediately stripped of its “radical” label from its name. His policy priorities will not easily match the drift members want to make – and even that direction will have to be changed to attract a general election victory.

As for Poilievre, he’d rather be a hellish chameleon. He will have to move from a position of pride with truckloads and adoration of every extra barrel of oil production to sticking with the climate upset, mid-way Ontario voters he will need to win. in a general election. Spoiler alert: It’s hard. Ask Erin O’Toole.

And he will have to learn how to play nice in a closed-door meeting where he is seen as an unfriendly force with a difficult personality.

All told, there is a risk any leadership outcome will send the Conservatives into an election crash and burn followed by a decade of walking in the wilderness.

But but but but . . . There is also the possibility that the collapse of the Liberal Party could allow the Conservatives to enter the prime minister’s office under any leader in conflict.

Trudeau is increasingly beset by nagging troubles, from his failed handling of a trucking union to consumer pain at the pumps and the energy crisis in Europe, in which the cabinet battles climate change instead of filling the Russian energy sanctions gap with Canada’s surging oil production.

An election was not entirely out of the question.

Given this golden opportunity to push for regime change, the Conservatives appear to be fighting over who has the most genuine blue blood to lead instead of debating important questions of direction. party finance, environment and healthcare.

But there was another stark contrast between the two giants as they began this protracted battle.

As a conservative without a conservative social baggage, with a track record on climate change and effective deficit reduction in Quebec, Charest is the candidate the Liberals very much hope to lose.

And unless there is a kinder, gentler version of Pierre Poilievre than the one I’ve observed for eight years, the Liberals are salivating for him to win.

As one insider told me, Poilievre as leader of the Conservative Party would be an arrogant and mean-spirited version of Jason Kenney, minus a government.

So with Charest joining in two days the stakes are getting extremely high for the party waiting for the government. Deep divisions are being drawn between yesterday’s dovish man and the turn of an untested Tory hardliner.

With the leadership vote still six months away, it poses the risk of a Conservative lose-lose scenario and another Liberal victory.

That is the key point.

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