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

Jill Mackenzie carefully replaces books on the shelves at the Houston Public Library. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
District approves annual library grant

Craft kits featured for summer reading club

The tradition of Houston Christian School grads giving Bibles to incoming kindergarten students will take place this year, but outdoors and in a modified fashion. (File photo)
Houston Christian School grad day is June 24

Grads themselves have set tone for the day, says teacher

Scott Richmond will be starting as the new vice principal for HSS and TSE. (Submitted/Houston Today)
Houston gets a new vice principal

Scott Richmond takes over from Dwayne Anderson who moved to Smithers

A Pacific Salmon Foundation grant of $3,000 is going towards the tree plantations. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)
550 trees planted in Houston through A Rocha

Houston Christian School students and volunteers help with the tree planting

Currently the Houston station has 16 paramedics, two ambulances and one community paramedic vehicle. (File photo)
Retirement of longtime paramedics worries Houston community

“No loss of service,” assures BC Emergency Health Services

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Bella Bella is on B.C.’s Central Coast, accessible only by air and ocean. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. provides $22 million for Heiltsuk development on Central Coast

Elders care home project, tourism, lumber mill supported

Most Read