Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

The theme of Saturday’s conference was ‘build back right’

Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who he was in his bid to secure the party leadership, telling a high-profile conference on Saturday that the “true blue” campaign he ran to secure the party helm does reflect his true colours.

O’Toole fielded questions about his authenticity during an evening question-and-answer session that closed out a conference hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network, formerly the Manning Centre.

He’s being branded as “Liberal-lite” in some quarters, the same descriptor O’Toole once leveled at former rival and ex-parliamentarian Peter MacKay during last year’s leadership race.

O’Toole, who during the contest pitched himself to party members as a “real Conservative,” said he finds those now making similar comments about him to be “humorous.”

He said he’s been trying to grow the party’s appeal to a wider swath of Canadians since assuming the party reins. O’Toole contended that bigger tent should include those who identify as Indigenous, working-class and LGBTQ if the party wants to ensure success in the next election.

“I didn’t hide who I was when I was running for leader,” said O’Toole.

“All of the things I ran on, I’m still running on now. I’m also, though, reaching out and trying to communicate our Conservative ideas to more people in new ways.”

O’Toole told conference attendees that Conservatives must fight an election on the issues of today rather than those of decades past.

Those issues include his willingness to slash millions from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and modernize its mandate, as well as crack down on illegal rail blockades, positions he said help set him apart from Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The theme of Saturday’s conference was “build back right,” which played off Trudeau’s oft-expressed wish to “build back better” when helping Canada’s economy recover from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The think tank’s annual convention — moved online in accordance with public health advice to avoid in-person gatherings — was billed as the largest networking event for both small-c and big-C conservatives to discuss current issues.

Among them was how to expand the scope of the Conservative movement.

Lilly Obina, a black woman who campaigned for different Conservative candidates and ran for a nomination in 2015, said one reason the party doesn’t resonate with the black community is its messaging around cuts, which needs to be better explained.

The senior project executive withImmigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada told a panel that economics are important to the black community, who she said can feel targeted when the party talks about reducing the size of government.

“We need to be able to empathize with what goes (on) in the black community,” she said.

“For example, when they say we are experiencing systemic racism, let’s recognize that, let’s be empathetic. You might not have solutions to everything, but at least just acknowledge that the problem exists.”

Tenzin Khangsar, who did cultural outreach for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney when he served as Immigration Minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, said the party has had previous success with reaching newcomers despite the present-day challenges.

The former candidate pointed to how a large number of their votes were captured under former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Harper, the latter of whom was aided by Kenney’s efforts to build relationships with immigrant communities.

“He was dubbed the minister of curry in a hurry for a reason,” said Khangsar, citing how he would attend upwards of 15 community events in a weekend.

“No one likes when it you’re approached just during an election, that’s very transactional.”

He suggested forging personal relationships is an important way to sway votes among new immigrants and ethnic-Canadians,, even more so than with non-ethnic residents.

“Our playbook was very simple: We were very confident that most new Canadians were small-c conservatives. We just had to make them big-C Conservatives,” Khangsar said.

“And I would even add that applies to most Canadians.”

Harper was among those who appeared at Saturday’s conference in a pre-taped panel discussion with former British prime minister David Cameron.

Moderated by Senator Linda From, the centre’s president said their talk couldn’t be publicized beyond the conference because of a contract with the former leaders.

ALSO READ: Trudeau, O’Toole, demand accountability as Iranian officials indicted for PS752 crash

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Conservative Party of CanadaCoronavirus

Just Posted

The Port McNeill Fire Hall. (Port McNeill Fire Rescue photo)
Port McNeill Fire Rescue gets big financial boost from government

Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom was thrilled by the funding announcement

The river behind the ball field. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Pulled by the flow: river stirs up childhood memories

Gazette editor makes trek through Port Hardy wilderness to swim in the river

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Alert Bay council has decided to cancel Canada Day celebrations. (Alertbay.ca photo)
Alert Bay council cancels Canada Day celebrations

The decision was made in wake of the mass graves being found at former residential schools

Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews on scene at a boat fire near the boat ramp at Long Lake on Sunday, June 20. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Boat burns up on Nanaimo’s Long Lake, man and child unhurt

Jet skiers attempt to put out fire by circling around to spray water on burning boat

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s so easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton of Point Roberts, Wash.

The Somass Sawmill sits idle in early May 2021. While the kilns have been in use occasionally, and the lot has been used to store woodchips this spring, the mill has been curtailed since July 27, 2017. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni to expropriate Somass Sawmill from Western Forest Products

Sawmill has been ‘indefinitely’ curtailed since 2017

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

B.C. conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter said a black bear is believed to have killed local livestock. (THE NEWS/files)
Black bear believed to have killed miniature donkey in Maple Ridge

Trap set for predator that has been killing livestock

The Comox Valley campus of North Island College. (File photo)
North Island College launches first Indigenous Plan

The plan signifies NIC’s commitment to become more Indigenous serving

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

People enjoy the sun at Woodbine Beach on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
BC Hydro assures customers it has ‘more than enough’ power to weather the heatwave

Despite an increase of pressure on the Western grid, blackouts are not expected like in some U.S. states

Most Read