Red Tory or blue Liberal?

If Calgary West MP Rob Anders is to be believed, the latest plague on Stephen Harper’s house is a red Tory insurgency whose front line is his Alberta riding.

If Calgary West MP Rob Anders is to be believed, the latest plague on Stephen Harper’s house is a red Tory insurgency whose front line is his Alberta riding.

According to Anders, efforts to nominate someone else to run under the local Conservative banner in 2015 are part of a bid by the progressive faction of the conservative movement to hijack the party and steer it to the left.

It is not the first time that the MP, whose main claim to fame nationally is to have been the sole parliamentarian to oppose granting Nelson Mandela honourary citizenship for his battle against apartheid in South Africa, has faced a challenge.

In a previous life, Alison Redford — the province’s current premier — tried in vain to wrestle the federal nomination from Anders.

Since then, a full-fledged civil war has erupted between the provincial Tories and the Wildrose party. The latest challenge to Anders is not totally divorced from the fratricide battle that has overtaken Alberta’s conservative movement and that stands to make both sides even more motivated to mobilize for a showdown.

But in the larger national picture, the last thing Harper needs as he struggles to reverse declining party fortunes is for Conservatives to fight Conservatives in battles that exacerbate the tensions between red and blue Tories.

If there ever was a time when Harper could ill afford to ostracize his progressive wing, it is now. It was not diehard Liberals or committed New Democrats who initially denied Harper a government in 2004 or who relented and gave him a majority in 2011, but rather the middle-of-the road voters who regularly trade the label of a blue Liberal for that of a red Tory.

Those chameleon voters have the power to take power out of Conservative hands in 2015 and the early indication is that a critical number of them are growing more comfortable with Justin Trudeau than with Harper’s true-blue Conservatives.

It may be that government strategists are so blinded by the aura of the Liberal leader’s name or so comforted by the prospect of a war of attrition between his party and the NDP in the next election that they fail to see that Trudeau’s preferred path to power runs through their own soft left flank.

To beat the New Democrats, the Liberal leader is intent on winning over the centre-right voters who have held the balance of power between his party and Harper’s in the past. Two recent byelections suggest that it could work.

In Manitoba’s Brandon-Souris last fall, the Liberal vote increased ninefold and the party lost narrowly to the incumbent Conservatives.

A year before in Calgary Centre, only four percentage points separated the winning Conservative score from that of the Liberals. The Liberals almost doubled their share of the vote from the 2011 election while the Conservatives lost 20 points.

Based on past Conservative performance in those ridings, neither would have made the list of most winnable Liberal seats in a general election. There are plenty of ridings across the country where a smaller vote swing would bring a seat in the Liberal column. But Calgary Centre and Brandon-Souris did have in common a red Tory track record. Under Joe Clark, the former Progressive Conservatives made their last stand against the Reform/Alliance in Western Canada in such ridings.

One of Harper’s signature achievements has been to keep the federal Conservative party whole for a successful decade.

But over that time, the fracture between the former Tories and their Reform rivals has not fully healed. The disaffection of scores of 2011 supporters of the Conservative party as shown in the polls month after month is a symptom of that failure. Those lost voters are bolstering the number (now a majority) of those who feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.

A red Tory coup-in-the-making there may not be except in the self-serving imagination of MP Anders, but cracks in the fragile foundation of Harper’s hard-earned majority there most certainly are and they are becoming harder to paper over.

Chantal Hébert is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some workers are terrified at the prospect of returning to work at Olymel, where hundreds were infected with COVID, says a worker.
Advocate file photo
Second death linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak, Alberta Health confirms

A second death has been linked to the Olymel COVID-19 outbreak, Alberta… Continue reading

A health worker holds up a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP
Health Canada approves AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

Canada has pre-ordered 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

A fallen Western Red cedar tree at Francis/King Regional Park in Saanich, B.C., Thursday, May 26, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Logging delay agreement for B.C. old-growth tree stand helps endangered spotted owls

Deal announced to hold off logging watershed for a year

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Emily Keeping of Wetaskiwin, Alta., was last seen at 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin. Supplied/ Wetaskiwin RCMP.
UPDATE: Wetaskiwin RCMP seek assistance in locating missing 11-year-old

Emily Keeping was last seen on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin.

FILE - Cameron Forte (right) and his Fraser Valley Bandits are 2-0 at the Canadian Elite Basketball League Summer Series after being the Saskatchewan Rattlers. (CEBL photo)
CEBL releases 14-game 2021 schedule, hopes to see fans attend games in person

Season will kick off with the Edmonton Stingers and the Fraser Valley Bandits

FILE - Keegan Messing performs during the Men’s Short program at the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. If the world figure skating championships do go ahead in a bubble in March in Sweden, there is a good chance Canada won’t be there. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Messing leads Canadian figure skating team at world championships

Messing was the only Canadian to compete on the Grand Prix circuit this season

Nurses episode, titled “Achilles Heel,” was first aired on Global in February 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Global pulls ‘Nurses’ episode after scene with Orthodox Jews deemed anti-Semitic

TORONTO — Global TV says it has pulled an episode of Toronto-set… Continue reading

Lady Gaga is offering a $500,000 reward for the return of her two French bulldogs. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Lady Gaga’s dog walker shot, French bulldogs stolen in LA

Dog walker expected to survive injuries

Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano tries to help goaltender David Rittich stop a shot from Ottawa Senators right wing Drake Batherson during first-period NHL action Thursday, February 25, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Most Read