Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Advertising Subscribe Reuse & Permissions
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now

Memo to Kellie Leitch: Don’t copy Donald Trump

By Evan Sotiropoulos      

Can the same divisive rhetoric Trump employed resonate with more than a sliver of Canadian voters? Far-fetched, at best.

Kellie Leitch, left, aligning her political aspirations with Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory in the hopes of replicating his success in Canada will end only in defeat and disappointment, argues Evan Sotiropoulos. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright & photograph courtesy Gage Skidmore

TORONTO—A 2010 Stanford business school study argued that negative product reviews actually increase sales for a company when it is relatively unknown. This is because, the argument goes, any publicity increases product awareness (although negative reviews for well-known products have the opposite effect). “This suggests that whereas the negative impression fades over time, increased awareness may remain,” explained one of the study’s authors.

This seems to be the approach—hope—of the relatively unknown Kellie Leitch and her campaign to become Conservative Party leader. There must be a blind, uncritical acceptance of the idea that all publicity is good publicity. Otherwise, what explains the ongoing negativity surrounding the former minister of labour and status of women, who recently defended herself by declaring, “I am not a racist.”

While her campaign’s strategy to control the narrative and increase her popularity is working for now, it has also cost her a number of high-profile supporters in what’s been a rather uninspiring leadership race to date.

Even so, aligning her political aspirations with Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory (which she described as an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well”) in the hopes of replicating his success in Canada, will end only in defeat and disappointment.

The idea that Leitch, or anybody else (for instance, Kevin O’Leary) could reproduce in today’s Canada the success Trump achieved in America, is misguided for many reasons.

The Donald, er, president-elect, has been in the spotlight for decades. His famous book, The Art of the Deal, was published almost 30 years ago, and his last name is synonymous with money, success, and power. From his hit TV reality show The Apprentice, to licensing his name on countless buildings and products, the perception of Trump as a successful businessman and larger-than-life personality was built over many years. This credibility, or at least perceived credibility, was a big part of his electoral success.

Certainly the same cannot be said of Leitch, or even O’Leary. Even the most well-known wealthy people and families in Canada—the Thomsons, Westons, Rogers, Irvings, Desmarais, or McCains—don’t resonate the same way that their counterparts do down south. The last time a famous business person made a (relatively) huge splash on the federal political scene in Canada was Belinda Stronach when she announced her candidacy for Conservative leader in 2004.

Another significant cross-border difference is the incessant coverage from cable news of the presidential election, and Trump’s candidacy in particular. His campaign’s earned media was absolutely enormous, as much as $5-billion worth of free advertising. Whatever news channel you chose or website you clicked on, chances are Trump, or a related story, was the headline.

The contrast in coverage between American and Canadian politics is expansive, as are two other related variables: money and special interests.

The campaigns, parties, and external organizations may have spent billions of dollars to win the White House. That makes the money spent in Canada look like a rounding error: the maximum expenses allowed for the current Conservative leadership race is $5-million, while the spending limit per party during last year’s federal writ period was nearly $55-million for those fielding candidates in every riding.

This, money and its role, is closely connected to the vast reach and influence of special interests and lobbyists in Washington, who often help draft, and have veto-like power over proposed legislation. In turn, this contributes to political gridlock, where cross-party collaboration is akin to sinning, and where constant filibustering is not a misdeed.

The political climate south of the border impedes progress on many issues (and opens the door to political outsiders). Immigration policy, for instance, is one area everyone agrees needs reforming, yet a solution remains elusive. In Canada, by contrast, our parliamentary system, especially when a majority government controls it, introduces, studies, and passes legislation with few—perhaps too few—constraints.

All of this is to say nothing of the deep economic disparities in America, which have been exacerbated and made more pronounced following the 2008 financial crisis (and which Senator Bernie Sanders leveraged to almost secure the Democratic nomination for president).

Yes, economic disparity is an issue in Canada as well, but not to the extent that it is in the United States. Likewise, other hot-button topics like immigration, free trade, crime and terrorism, and race relations do not reverberate the same way here as they do there.

Canada, for example, was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971, and today it serves as a model for many nations.

Political personality cults and the role of media and money in Canada are markedly different than in America; special interest groups do not have the same undue influence over policy here; and our system of government, which is not without its own shortcomings, allows for policy progression.

Many things came together, including having an unpopular opponent (Trudeau is no Clinton, by the way), that allowed Trump to win the electoral college, although not the popular vote. Key variables that enabled his political rise are mostly absent in Canada. The ground was fertile for Trump’s message and, as the saying goes: timing is everything.

Can this happen in Canada? Sure. To say never is naive. Can this happen in today’s Canada? Can the same divisive rhetoric Trump employed resonate with more than a sliver of Canadian voters? Far-fetched, at best, so Leitch—or anybody else—should stop trying.

Evan Sotiropoulos is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him at @evan_sotirop.

The Hill Times

More in News

NDP MP Romeo Saganash says speaking Indigenous languages in Parliament is a ‘right’

News|By Jolson Lim
NDP MP Romeo Saganash addressed the House Procedure and Affairs Committee in his native Cree language on Tuesday to call for the right to speak Indigenous languages in Parliament and have the words properly translated in French and…

Drop in polls ‘a wake-up call’ for Trudeau’s Liberals who need to ‘work on their game,’ say leading pollsters

News|By Abbas Rana
The recent drop in public opinion polls should be a “wake-up call” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's governing Liberals who need to keep their eye on the ball and communicate what they’re doing to improve the…

Ford campaign team has ties to Bernier, Leitch, went all in on digital ads

New Ontario PC leader Doug Ford upended the party establishment through a campaign run by a small group with ties to the Ford family, as well as several high-profile federal Conservatives. The members of Mr.…

Feds to begin negotiations with supercluster winners

The five winners of the government’s superclusters competition will be meeting with the federal Innovation Department in the coming weeks to get started on a months-long negotiation over just how much money each will receive…

On the road again: how rookie Liberal MP Hutchings tackles riding bigger than Switzerland

Feature|By Laura Ryckewaert
Representing the riding of Long Range Mountains, N.L., which covers an area larger than Switzerland and includes more than 200 communities, means a lot of time spent on the road for Liberal MP Gudie Hutchings…

Mandatory anti-harassment training coming for MPs’ staffers on and off the Hill

This fall, anyone working in an MP’s office can expect to follow in their boss's footsteps and be required to take in-person anti-harassment training, following a House of Commons Board of Internal Economy decision earlier…

Poor issues management plaguing Trudeau’s team, say strategists

The public relations problems that plagued Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent India trip are part of a pattern of poor issues management that politicos say will dog this government if it doesn’t change course quickly.…

Feds move to do full PS staff survey yearly, not every three years

A comprehensive examination of how public servants feel about their workplaces will now be done yearly, instead of every three years, a move welcomed by union representatives, who say there needs to be meaningful action…

Delayed Amazon-like federal procurement system projected to go live in 2019

An online platform intended to speed up and simplify federal procurement is almost two years behind schedule, but now has a planned launch in 2019 following $197-million promised in the latest budget. The funding identified…


We’re offering 15% off a year-long subscription to the hill times online content.