Now, conservatives are hoping Justin Trudeau’s minority government doesn’t last long and Canada will be headed back to the polls within the next two years. Whenever the next election comes, there are three critical lessons the Conservative brain trust must learn if they want to win.
1. Andrew Scheer isn’t the reason Conservatives lost.
Andrew Scheer is a flawed candidate for prime minister of Canada. But, there’s never been a perfect candidate. They’re all human. They’re all flawed.
Remember, Conservative Party members had only two real leadership options to choose from: Andrew Scheer or Maxime Bernier. Scheer grew the Conservative seat count from 99 to 121. Bernier’s hard-right party failed utterly and he lost his own seat. Does anyone think Bernier would have been a better choice to lead the Conservatives in this election?
Before Conservative Party members decide who will lead them in the next election, they need to understand that replacing Scheer won’t fix the problem.
Andrew Scheer is not the reason Conservatives lost the election.
2. Conservative communication sucked.
The Conservative Party wasn’t able to deal with the most obvious attacks Liberals leveled at them.
Most Canadians weren’t buying the tired old Liberal “beware the Conservatives’ hidden agenda” line. Until the Conservatives literally hid their agenda by keeping their campaign platform secret until the last weekend of the election.
Most Canadians were ready to accept a straightforward, unambiguous answer on abortion and gay rights. But, Conservatives never gave them one. Instead, they offered up a gobbledygook script of committee-approved messages.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from a sergeant who took me aside when I was a young army officer. He said, “Sir, it’s not enough to give orders that are easy to understand. You have to give orders that are impossible to misunderstand.”
The next Conservative leader must speak in straightforward terms that are impossible to misunderstand.
But, even their atrocious campaign communication was not the reason Conservatives lost the election.
3. You can’t sell what nobody wants to buy.
I learned in business (the hard way) the most difficult thing to sell is something nobody wants. No matter how much it might benefit them, if you have to convince people they should want your product, you’re not going to sell much of it. Better to start with a product consumers already want. Then, it’s just about closing the deal.
It’s not that Canadians didn’t like Andrew Scheer. It’s not that they didn’t understand the Conservative message.
Canadians didn’t want the government Conservatives were selling.
Conservatives need to stop selling people on “core conservative values,” and start building a government Canadians want to buy.
Many of the principles Conservatives were offering: prudent fiscal management, protection of freedoms, a focus on core services, etc. are things most Canadians want. But, the rest of the Conservative platform was a hodgepodge of cobbled-together archetypal conservative tropes. Few of them resonated with most Canadians.
The Ontario Progressive Conservatives were in the same position before the last provincial election. They’d lost four elections in a row, trying to sell the same-old, same-old conservative values to a province that just wasn’t interested. Only after the party became more reflective of modern Ontario and built a platform that resonated with common people, did the party win government again.
It’s time for federal Conservatives to learn the same lessons. If they want to grow beyond their 30-35% base of support and win a majority government again, they need to reinvent themselves. They’re going to have to build a party and a platform that delivers what Canadians actually want — not what conservatives think Canadians should want.
If they don’t, they’ll lose again.