Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole stressed the importance of taking Western alienation seriously on Wednesday while he announced key members of his House leadership team, including Manitoba MP Candice Bergen as deputy leader.
Since taking over from Regina MP Andrew Scheer, Mr. O’Toole has raised the threat of Western disaffection on more than one occasion, including in his first discussion with the Prime Minister.
Feelings of isolation and frustration in Western Canada bubbled to the surface during the past federal election, and have been articulated by politicians, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who believe the issue is fuelled by low crude prices and Ottawa not doing enough to prioritize the natural-resource sector.
Western alienation is likely to figure into any forthcoming Conservative election campaign and it’s an issue Ms. Bergen is well aware of as a politician from the Prairies.
When asked Wednesday if he considers the separatist Wexit party, led by former Conservative MP and government House leader Jay Hill, a threat, Mr. O’Toole urged Conservatives to stay united.
“I spoke to Jay Hill months ago before he took the role he’s in,” Mr. O’Toole said. To people who are frustrated, he said, vote Conservative.
Conservatives do not pit one region against the other, he said, adding that he believes this is what the Trudeau government has done, which has resulted in the increase in alienation.
Mr. O’Toole, who is the first leader of the modern Conservative Party not to hold a seat in Western Canada, said Ms. Bergen has been a passionate defender of the Conservatives and that she will mentor the party for the future.
Ms. Bergen, who was first elected in 2008 and represents the Manitoba riding of Portage-Lisgar, said that Mr. O’Toole received support throughout the country, particularly from Conservatives in the West.
“He spoke to people in the West, he let them know he was listening to them and the very first thing he brought up with the Prime Minister is Western alienation,” she said, adding that Mr. O’Toole has asked her to focus on this as a key issue in her role.
“Westerners need to know that Conservatives know this is an issue and they will not be ignored,” she said. “So, our caucus is definitely aware of this issue. We want Canadians from every part of the country to know that they are important, that they are valuable and that they are being listened to.”
Mr. O’Toole also announced other senior members of his team, including his Quebec lieutenant, MP Richard Martel, and that Gérard Deltell would serve as his House leader.
Other positions announced Wednesday include chief opposition whip Blake Richards, Ontario MP Karen Vecchio as deputy House leader, deputy opposition whip Alex Ruff, and Alberta MP Tim Uppal as the caucus-party liaison.
Mr. O’Toole is expected to announce his full shadow cabinet next week.
Conservative strategist Kate Harrison, the vice-president of Summa Strategies, said Wednesday on Twitter that Mr. O’Toole had announced a thoughtful lineup of inner-circle advisers and noted that there was good geographic balance, a diversity of views but also that it includes supporters of leadership rival Peter MacKay.
Mr. MacKay, a former Conservative cabinet minister, finished second in the leadership race.
Mr. O’Toole was also asked Wednesday about a now-deleted tweet by B.C. MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay on Saturday. The tweet contained a retweet of an old video of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was a journalist at the time for the Financial Times, interviewing billionaire George Soros.
Ms. Findlay wrote on her Twitter account that Ms. Freeland listened carefully to Mr. Soros “like student to teacher.” She then removed her tweet to say she did not mean to spread “hateful rhetoric” and that she learned that the source of the video spreads conspiracy theories.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather told The Globe and Mail that the issue was an opportunity for Mr. O’Toole to explain why this was such “an ill-informed tweet.”
Mr. O’Toole said he learned of the issue after her tweet had been deleted, adding that he spoke with some Jewish leaders to articulate that the Conservatives are a strong voice against anti-Semitism.
Mr. O’Toole, who told Global TV this weekend that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was the wrong approach and undercut the Canada Employment Wage Subsidy, also said Wednesday that he would absolutely not cancel the benefit if he became Prime Minister.
He said there needs to be a plan for job creation after the emergency benefit and warned of the potential for high unemployment.
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