Upstart federal political party wants to provide centrist alternative

A new federal political party wants to be a centrist alternative to the Conservatives and Liberals, but doing so is easier said than done.

The Canadian Future Party is being created by the 18-month-old non-profit advocacy group Centre Ice Canadians, with the goal of bringing “politically homeless” Canadians together.

Six months of discussions with “Canadians from coast to coast” revealed support for “a new, radical, centrist political option based on evidence, civic nationalism, fiscal responsibility, and social liberalism,” according to Centre Ice founder Rick Peterson in a Sept. 20 statement announcing the new party. Peterson is a former investment banker who came 12th in the 2017 federal Conservative leadership race.

Now, Canadian Future will begin the registration process with Elections Canada — which includes a requirement to sign up 250 founding members — and “prepare to contest elections,” according to the press release.

Centre Ice Canadians was originally called Centre Ice Conservatives, the name change, presumably, an effort to bring disillusioned Liberals into the fold.

“We're not talking about sort of a mushy middle in between an old left and right… We're talking about being at the sharp end of the arrow, trying to push things ahead,” said Dominic Cardy, interim leader of Canadian Future, in a phone interview with Canada’s National Observer. He emphasized the need to move away from rage farming and social media-driven politics in favour of doing the hard work to come up with policy solutions.

Cardy is an independent New Brunswick MLA for Fredericton West-Hanwell. He was the leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party from 2011 to 2016 and was later elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2018. He spent four years in Premier Blaine Higgs’ cabinet as education and early childhood development minister before resigning in 2022 — caucus also voted to expel him — in 2022 and he has sat as an independent since then.

Centre Ice Canadians surveyed a couple thousand people on its mailing list to gauge interest in forming a new political party and the response was an overwhelming yes, said Cardy. By 6 p.m. on Sept. 20, more than 250 members had signed up, according to Canadian Future executive director Chisholm Pothier.

Last month, Centre Ice published a draft policy framework that covers everything from housing to climate change (an issue it explicitly states is real).

For now, there are lots of steps to get registered with Elections Canada as well as doing the more challenging — but very rewarding — work to “convince people that this is actually worth their time,” said Cardy.

Canadian Future will be headed by a national council with a representative from each province and territory and it intends to hold a founding convention in 2024. The Centre Ice Canadians sports a team webpage that includes former Conservative MP Peter Kent and former Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton. Former B.C. premier Christy Clark was once listed on the organization’s advisory council but is no longer there and did not return a request for comment.

“I have a hard time believing that they're going to move the needle in the election in terms of votes,” said Alex Marland, a professor of Canadian politics at Acadia University. But, he said, “maybe their goal is to move the needle in terms of conversation.”

There is a subset of people who aren’t at home with either the Liberals or Conservatives. For example, “blue” Liberals think the government shouldn’t run a deficit and want to see more fiscal restraint but see the federal Conservatives as too right of centre. On the flip side, people ideologically aligned with the now-dissolved Progressive Conservative Party of Canada have been without a political home for two decades. The People’s Party of Canada (PPC) has also pulled the federal Conservatives “a bit to the right,” so this new group could try to tug it slightly towards the centre, said Marland.

The electoral system is usually designed to support parties that get a lot of support in particular areas of the country — a clear example being the Bloc Quebecois —– and it’s unclear at this point where the appetite for a new centrist party is on a regional basis, said Marland.

Maxime Bernier's PPC has managed to “essentially capture the ideological soul of the Conservative Party, and has had a huge impact on Canadian politics,” said Cardy, pointing to the prevalence of narratives around vaccines and the World Economic Forum in the mainstream political debate.

He said it’s “awful” but also “a testament to the power of even a small political party to be able to change the narrative.” If Canadian Future’s efforts to win elections get other parties to step up their game a bit, that’s all to the good, said Cardy, adding if other parties come up with ideas worth stealing, “we’ll do that, too.”

Cardy acknowledged the challenging nature of this endeavour, particularly going up against the existing political establishment.

It also takes a lot of resources to form a new party and get electoral district associations up and running and hold candidate nomination contests, if necessary.

“One of the big resource challenges they are gonna have, that I don't think that they appreciate, is candidate vetting,” said Marland. Social media makes it easy for political opponents and the public to “dig up all these crazy things these people have said at some point in their life” and leave their party to do damage control, he pointed out. Existing parties have the benefit of incumbent, already-vetted candidates, but Canadian Future will be starting from scratch.

If things go badly, this new party has the potential to damage public perception of the very views and policies they seek to encourage, said Marland. For example, a lack of support for their centrist party and policies would tell everybody else that nobody is interested, he pointed out.

The party will need a charismatic leader who is credible and can attract a lot of attention and capture the public imagination, said Marland. Without that, “I would say this is dead in the water.”

Cardy said the new party aims to run a slate of candidates whenever the next federal election rolls around, which, if the Liberal-NDP agreement survives, would be October 2025 at the latest.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer