Calling himself a “child of the common sense revolution,” federal Conservative Party leader candidate Erin O’Toole pitched his platform to about 40 party faithful Tuesday at Penticton’s Time Winery.
The MP for Durham, Ont. spoke at length about his vision for the party and the country and answered questions from the audience on this, his second attempt for the leadership.
A cabinet minister in the Stephen Harper government, he also had strong words for the federal Conservative membership if they hope to avenge last fall’s defeat in the Liberal-led minority government.
“When we lost the last election we guaranteed that there will at least be two or three, or worst-case scenario, four more years of Justin Trudeau. My fear as a Canadian is that we may not recognize the country if we don’t get our act together,” he said. “I’m the underdog in this (leadership) race but increasingly working people in Canada are becoming the underdogs in Justin Trudeau’s camp.
“Nevermore than before have we needed a strong Conservative government to get Canada back on track.”
A former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and a corporate lawyer, O’Toole is among those hoping to fill the shoes of outgoing leader Andrew Scheer.
Among those attending the Tuesday session were local riding president Chris Struthers and candidate Helena Konanz who finished a close runner up to NDP MP Richard Cannings in the October 2019 federal election.
Starting out Tuesday, O’Toole laughed about hearing his biography read out loud.
“I joined the military in high school, I was an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, really respected, way up there, then I became a lawyer (jaded laughter from the audience) then I became a politician (more laughter) so it was down the public respect ladder,” he said, adding on a serious note: “But I’m in public life for the same reason I put a uniform on, because I believe in this country.”
From his military background, he described the Conservatives having to fighting a five-front war.
“We’ve got the Liberals, we’ve got the NDP, we’ve got the Green Party, we’ve got the CBC, we’ve got the Toronto Star and they’re all telling us what they think we should do,” said O’Toole, noting the party must stick to its base principles and not move to the “mushy middle.”
He also attacked what he called Trudeau’s crippling of the resource sector adding he would eliminate Bill C-69.
“(Bill C-69) is an unfair measure that made capital leave Canada,” said O’Toole. “Trudeau backed himself into a corner so that he had to buy a pipeline from the private sector that they were going to build with no public money.
“He banned (resource) exploration of the north without a single phone call (to First Nations leaders as part of the consultative process). When you rob people from their opportunity to provide for their young people within their Indigenous communities you’re robbing them of full participation.”
In addition, he blamed the Prime Minister for failing to protect the country in the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the United States and Mexico, saying Trudeau listed his priorities as climate change, gender and Indigenous reconciliation, instead of what O’Toole felt were the real issues, importing and exporting, and working to keep jobs in Canada.
He also took a parting shot at the CBC and the Liberals $600-million injection into the corporation and the resulting $600-million “bailout” of some private sector media, hinting he had more to say on the CBC matter in the future.
“I will cut the bailout fund (to CBC) and we’re also going to see some reductions within the CBC that most Canadians will agree with,” said O’Toole. “Times have changed and so must the CBC. Stay tuned.”
He noted the party is open to “anyone” who shares the party values regardless, of age, sexual orientation and whether they have been in Canada “five minutes or 50 years.”
“We need to do three things; keep the movement united, grow it by speaking to people who felt left out and win where we need to win, so we can take back Canada,” he said to the applause of the audience.