Schmale, Forbes, and Davidson talk rural-urban divide and conservatism

By Kirk Winter

Jamie Schmale, left, Judi Forbes, top right, Alison Davidson, bottom right. All photos: Sienna Frost.

Forty-eight hours after fighting and winning his third election, local MP Jamie Schmale says it’s bittersweet to be going back to Ottawa while the Conservative Party itself has once again been defeated.

“We were hoping for better,” Schmale said.

For Judi Forbes, the Liberal candidate, her sense of the election was skewed during the race because of the hostility she faced at the door.

“When you are knocking on doors in a riding like this where three out of four are not going to be Liberal-friendly I was really concerned the federal party was in real trouble. It was a huge relief to see the outcome nationally,” she said.

Forbes pulled in about 23 per cent of the vote in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock for her second-place finish, while Schmale garnered about 52 per cent.

When asked if she noticed a difference between the 2019 and 2021 campaign, besides possibly a lower turnout, Forbes said this one was more “nasty.”

“I can’t believe there are people who believe they have the right to behave like they do. People do not have the right to swear or make obscene gestures just because your political views differ,” Forbes said.

For Alison Davidson, the PPC candidate, her party was mired in controversy for several reasons during this campaign, including its appeal to anti-vaccine protesters. However, the PPC managed to pull in 800,000 votes, including about 4,700 votes in this riding. She placed fourth in the riding, ahead of the Green Party candidate.

“I would consider doing it again,” Davidson said. “If they can find a more qualified candidate, I would step aside but I would consider it.”

She thinks the big parties need to “take a look at the PPC numbers and know that there are people who want real conservative principles.”

She said she doesn’t believe the PPC will lose momentum “until you see the Conservative Party act conservative. The Conservatives have done this to themselves. They were squishy on guns and vaccines.”

In fact, the harder right conservatism has only been around in the political mainstream in Canada since 2004 when Stephen Harper came to power. Prior to that, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada had more broad-based appeal.

Schmale admits that the PPC had significant growth. “They were unfortunately largely speaking about provincial issues but they expressed the frustrations that many people have had with the lockdowns. We all need to be safe and find a path forward together.”

He added that all parties who lost strength to the PPC will be “looking at how to lure those supporters back.”

Rural-Urban Divide

Forbes was asked to comment on the rural/urban disconnect that sees Liberals struggling to craft a message that rural Canadians will find appealing.

“Rural areas are less diverse,” Forbes said. “People don’t have a chance to interact with folks with stories different from their own. Farmers traditionally vote Conservative because they don’t like folks in their business.”

She says the Liberal Party has certainly thought about this disconnect. “We had a minister for rural affairs, knowing (the rural connection to voters) was a weakness. We should be better communicating our success on issues like rural broadband expansion rather than letting (local MPP) Laurie Scott take the credit for it.”

In parallel, Schmale believes there’s a reason the Conservative message may have played more poorly in Canada’s three largest megalopolises of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

The MP said Conservative messages of freedom and personal responsibility are a harder sell because, “in bigger cities government is more organic with a need for things like transit. With people packed and stacked and living so close together in cities there is also a need for more rules.”

When asked why she ran for a second time in a riding that was likely to vote Conservative, Forbes said it was partly because of “all the wonderful people I met at the front doors in 2019 who wanted a progressive government. I didn’t want to see someone just dropped into the riding for the sake of having a candidate.”

As for the Conservative Party’s new leader, Schmale thinks O’Toole is secure right now. “It wouldn’t be the smartest idea to get rid of him right now. Changing leaders is tough during a pandemic. We increased our share of the popular vote. I supported Erin from early on and still do.”

When asked if the Conservatives underestimate Prime Minister Trudeau, who has now defeated three very different Conservative leaders in Stephen Harper, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, Schmale said, “Trudeau has some appeal to some people. Those who love him love him a lot. Those who hate him hate him a lot. The Liberal Party is attached to Trudeau and his brand is what got many of them elected in 2015.”

Schmale expects to return to Ottawa in the next couple of weeks for a sitting of parliament expected to run until Christmas, where the Liberal COVID recovery plan and the federal budget are likely to be front and centre for debate by all parties.

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