Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he will work to address regional divisions in Canada and build a more inclusive political party that better reflects the country’s population.
During his first news conference since winning the leadership on Monday, O’Toole said Canadians haven’t always seen themselves reflected in the party.
“I’m going to change that,” he said.
O’Toole won the leadership on the third ballot early Monday after a long night of delays caused by technical glitches in the ballot processing system. Final results, which were expected before 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, weren’t announced until after 1 a.m. Monday.
On his first day on the job, O’Toole dealt with transition issues and spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about western alienation, emergency pandemic funding and the government’s decision to prorogue Parliament until Sept. 23.
O’Toole said he will work to ease tensions in Western Canada by restoring support for natural resources.
“We have to be proud of what we produce here in Canada,” he said.
In his acceptance speech early Monday, O’Toole said he would work to unite any internal rifts in the party and broaden the party’s base of supporters.
“I believe that whether you are Black, white, brown or from any race or creed, whether you are LGBT or straight, whether you are an Indigenous Canadian or have joined the Canadian family three weeks ago or three generations ago,” he said.
“Whether you’re doing well or barely getting by. Whether you worship on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or not at all … you are an important part of Canada, and you have a home in the Conservative Party of Canada.”
O’Toole repeated a similar line today.
‘Bold efforts’ required
Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said that outreach and “bold efforts” are critical if the Conservatives hope to win power.
He said that while Stephen Harper’s strategy of assembling the minimum number of voters necessary to win worked to ensure a unified and well-funded party, it proved insufficient in the 2019 election.
“This is beyond appealing to specific groups of voters and policy areas — it’s a mindset that sees growth and inclusion as a good, not just grudgingly necessary, thing,” he said in an email response to questions from CBC News.
“In particular, the party must cultivate a more positive and collective vision, rather than the resentful individualism of its 2019 election slogan: ‘It’s time for you to get ahead.'”
David Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said a big challenge for O’Toole will be to appeal to voters who might have suspicions about the social conservative views of many within the party.
“The party can’t win an election without overwhelming support from social conservatives, but it can’t win if it is unable to reach out more broadly,” he said in an email.
While leadership contender Peter MacKay had a narrow lead on the first ballot, O’Toole ended up taking 57 per cent of the votes, scooping up support from those who had supported social conservative candidates Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan.
Liberal MP calls for Sloan’s expulsion
Ontario Liberal MP Pam Damoff issued a news release calling on O’Toole to condemn “racism, misogyny and bigotry” within his caucus by removing Sloan from his team and refusing to sign his nomination papers for the next election.
She pointed to past statements from Sloan in which he criticized Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam that many people considered racist, supported conversion therapy and compared women’s abortion rights to slavery.
“I am proud to be part of a caucus that believes in protecting LGBTQ2 rights and women’s rights and sees Canada’s diversity, including within our public service, as our greatest strength,” she said in the release.
“If Mr. O’Toole wants to prove that he only pandered to far-right groups in order to win the leadership, and not as part of his vision for the next campaign, he has a lot of work ahead of him. However, the first item on his list needs to be removing Derek Sloan from his team.”