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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This sign, visible from Highway 17 and suggesting dissatisfaction with the public health measures responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, disappeared from this location after having stood on a private North Saanich property for several days. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sign in North Saanich warning of police state gone

The sign stood for several days on a private property and was visible from Highway 17

Victoria police said Wednesday that they continue to look for Belinda Ann Cameron, who was last seen on May 5, 2005. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police still looking for Belinda Cameron who was last seen 16 years ago

Cameron was reported missing on June 4, 2005, and her case is deemed suspicious

Colwood-based writer Esi Edugyan will speak about the deep research she did before writing <em>Washington Black</em>, her third novel. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood author Esi Edugyan giving talk May 6 about her research and writing process

Event is part of Royal Road’s Changemaker series celebrating its 25th anniversary

NEW CUTLINE Payphone use is declining dramatically. (Black Press Files)

One of the last remaining street payphones in Kelowna. (Photo: Mackenzie Britton/Capital News)
Last call approaches for payphones?

Mobile phones diminishing need

West Shore RCMP is requesting the public’s assistance in locating a missing Langford resident, Nevaeh Hansell. (West Shore RCMP)
MISSING: Police seek 13-year-old Langford girl last seen May 3

Police are asking for help to locate the teen

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Following a one-year pause due to the pandemic, the Snowbirds were back in the skies over the Comox Valley Wednesday (May 5) morning. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Video: Snowbirds hold first training session in Comox Valley in more than 2 years

The team will conduct their training from May 4 to 26 in the area

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read