Erin O’Toole is challenging the Conservative Party to expand its voter base by embracing new ideas to revive the COVID-19-ravaged economy, including the creation of a domestic vaccine industry and a serious climate-change policy, to bolster the party’s chances of winning an election expected this year.
In a speech to the party’s virtual convention on Friday, the rookie federal Conservative Leader urged delegates to reject the party’s past policies that have led to two consecutive electoral defeats, saying it can only win power again by presenting Canadians with something new.
Under former leader Andrew Scheer, the Conservatives won the popular vote and the Liberals fell to minority rule from a majority. But the Liberals held onto power under Justin Trudeau.
“We must present new ideas, not make the same arguments hoping that maybe this time more Canadians will come around to our position,” said Mr. O’Toole, who was elected Tory Leader last August.
He called for a “grand Conservative coalition” open to all Canadians, including Quebec nationalists and voters who traditionally support the NDP, arguing that only the Conservatives can form an alternative government to the Liberals.
On Quebec, for example, he said a Tory government would be open to negotiating new administrative agreements with the province in areas such as taxation.
Mr. O’Toole made his remarks Friday during a long-awaited policy convention that more than 5,500 Conservative supporters registered to attend.
He entered the meeting beset by reports of caucus dissension and he faces criticism from the party’s social-conservative wing that he has abandoned their concerns. Leslyn Lewis, a candidate in the party’s 2020 leadership race and a social conservative, was co-host for the convention, which did not feature resolutions dealing with such hot-button issues as abortion.
Also, there have been concerns among some in the party about Mr. O’Toole’s commitment to dealing with climate change. In his speech, Mr. O’Toole appealed to both sides of the argument about taking action to curb global warming.
The federal Conservative Leader said economic development is more important than dealing with climate change. “Canadian voters should have no doubt: My focus is on jobs, getting us out of the recession and rebuilding the Canadian economy.”
But he also promised the party will not, as in past, be outflanked on green issues, noting the debate over the reality of climate change is over. However, he provided no details beyond saying a Conservative government would scrap the federal carbon tax and seek a “credible alternative.”
Specifically, he acknowledged speculation about what he would say on climate change in his speech. “To those who were expecting a dramatic moment: I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
“We have now fought and lost two elections against a carbon tax because voters did not think we were serious about addressing climate change,” Mr. O’Toole said.
“I will not allow 338 candidates to defend against the lie from the Liberals that we are a party of climate-change deniers. We will have a plan to address climate change. It will be comprehensive. And it will be serious.”
Liberals and New Democrats reacted quickly to Mr. O’Toole’s speech.
“As the Conservative convention debated whether climate change is real, Mr. O’Toole himself confirmed in his speech that he’ll do nothing and continue to oppose putting a price on carbon,” said a statement issued by Pam Damoff, Liberal MP for Oakville North –Burlington.
NDP spokesperson Mélanie Richer said Mr. O’Toole says a lot of nice things, but has fought against the needs of working people with votes on such issues as joining unions and worker pensions. During the pandemic, she accused Mr. O’Toole and the Conservatives of being on the sidelines of talks with the Liberals to deliver help for workers and their families.
Representatives of the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party declined comment on the speech.
Mr. O’Toole’s commitments include balancing the budget over the next decade, replacing a million jobs lost during the pandemic in one year, a new anti-corruption law and a new mental-health plan that includes a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline and boosted funding partnerships with the provinces for mental-health care.
Mr. O’Toole also said a Conservative government would ensure that Canada is never again caught off guard in a pandemic by taking such measures as partnering with pharmaceutical companies to increase the production of critical medicines and active ingredients, and building domestic vaccine-production capacity.
Earlier in the convention, party president Scott Lamb appealed to supporters to commit to unity.
“While we have vigorous and passionate debate in our party about policy and governance at conventions, we must come together as never before to show the country we are ready to govern,” he said in a speech Thursday.
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