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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Dec. 10, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Erin O’Toole says he will disregard his party’s skepticism about climate change and fight the election expected this year with a new policy to help the Conservative Party compete for votes.

“I am the leader and this is an important issue for me,” he told a Tuesday news conference in Ottawa. “The debate is closed.”

The Conservative Leader said his caucus backs the development of a “serious and comprehensive” plan on climate change and the environment that will be released before the election.

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But events at a Conservative policy convention that wrapped up on Saturday show divisiveness among the grassroots. In a speech last week, Mr. O’Toole declared that he would not allow “338 candidates to defend against the lie from the Liberals that we are a party of climate-change deniers.” A day later, 54 per cent of convention delegates voted against a resolution that would have included the line “climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act” in the Tories’ official policy document.

On Tuesday, Mr. O’Toole played down the resolution from the Quebec riding association of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier as only one out of 34 resolutions at the convention. Joël Godin, the riding’s Conservative MP, was unavailable for comment but a spokesman said, in a statement, that Mr. O’Toole is addressing the issue.

Independent MP Derek Sloan, who was expelled earlier this year from the Conservative caucus and party at Mr. O’Toole’s urging, said the leader is being disrespectful to party members.

“He’s basically saying ‘I don’t care what the membership has said. I’m going to do what I want, and I am the leader,’” said Mr. Sloan, who organized to advance social-conservative views at the convention. Conservatives value policy conventions, he said. “They expect what they vote on to be taken into consideration.”

Pollster Nik Nanos said the situation equips the Liberals with a means of asserting the Conservative Party is out of touch with Canadians on environmental policy and also of framing the party as being hostage to the anti-abortion movement.

The Campaign Life Coalition, which sought to influence the convention, raised concerns about the resolution on its website, declaring “global warming alarmism is being used by global elites and the United Nations to advance population control through abortion and sterilization.”

On Tuesday, Jack Fonseca, political operations director for the coalition, said in an e-mail that a Conservative leader should have “conservative” policies such as ensuring clean air, soil and water, and stopping the dumping of waste into rivers and lakes, but not enact “flawed unscientific Liberal policies.” He noted that 26,000 of the coalition’s supporters are Conservative Party members, and that the members’ priority remains electing anti-abortion candidates.

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In an e-mail exchange, Mr. Nanos said if Mr. O’Toole can manage his caucus to support his position on the environment, he can likely weather this storm. “[But] if there is a rear-guard mobilization against O’Toole’s environmental policy, it will show a party divided at a minimum or a party which does not support its leader.”

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told a news conference the whole situation raises questions. “I do not know if the leader of a party is entitled to say, ‘I am the boss so I don’t mind what the party decided.’ Perhaps he should say, ‘This is what my party is. They deny climate change. People in Canada and Quebec will have to make a choice.’”

Mr. O’Toole said his climate-change plan will balance emissions’ reduction with job creation.

Mark Jaccard, who, in 2007, helped the government of then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell develop the province’s carbon tax, said Mr. O’Toole has several choices to make.

The professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University said if the Conservatives are not going to have a carbon tax, they have to look at cap-and-trade, flexible regulations and prescriptive regulations that impose technologies or other policies.

“If Erin O’Toole is not saying precise things about regulatory stringency or carbon price, he is not sincere,” said Prof. Jaccard, author of the 2020 book The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress.

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