In a keynote speech to the party faithful on Friday afternoon, Erin O’Toole laid out some hard truths for a party that spent much of its modern existe…

OTTAWA–Erin O’Toole says Canada has changed, and the Conservative party needs to change, too.
In a keynote speech to the party faithful on Friday afternoon, O’Toole laid out some hard truths for a party that spent much of its modern existence in power under Stephen Harper.
“We are never going to win over Canadians just by relying on Justin Trudeau to continue to disappoint. His scandals, as outrageous as they often are, will never be enough to defeat him,” O’Toole said in his remarks.
“The Conservative party can defeat him, but only with the courage to grow, to move beyond a party that does well only in certain parts of Canada while leaving other Canadians out.
“We need to be the party for all of Canada.”
The speech from the leader at a Canadian political party’s policy convention is typically a rah-rah affair that attempts to energize party activists ahead of the next election. O’Toole’s speech Friday, delivered to party members who gathered virtually from kitchen tables and home offices across the country, was a departure from that tradition.
Noting that the party has lost the last two elections, O’Toole said the Conservatives need to present “new ideas,” not “the same arguments, hoping that maybe this time more Canadians will come around to our position.”
There were scant details about O’Toole’s new ideas — or, at least, how he would implement them — in Friday’s address.
The Conservative leader introduced what the party is calling “Canada’s Recovery Plan” — an umbrella term for the party’s vision for a post-pandemic economic recovery.
O’Toole pledged a Conservative government would “rebuild Main Street” by assisting small business, take “immediate action” to help sectors hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic fallout — including women forced out of the workforce, and young people — and offer a “comprehensive” employment plan” to recover one million lost jobs within one year.
Those commitments echoed some initiatives the Liberal government is already taking, with its income supports to workers and businesses during the pandemic, and its pledge to “build back better” after the pandemic ends.
But O’Toole cast Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s planned $100-billion stimulus package as reckless “reimagining” of the Canadian economy, compared to his promise of “security and certainty.”
“It may not be the most glamorous route, but it will get all of us safely to our destination,” O’Toole said.
The Conservative leader has been beset by weeks of negative headlines, with party insiders and MPs anonymously grumbling to the media about a lack of direction under O’Toole’s leadership.
Friday’s speech could be seen as a partial response to that criticism — if not in the details of O’Toole’s election pitch, at least in the broad strokes of where he said he wants to take the party.
It’s an open question about whether the party will let him take it there.
Abacus Data released new polling Friday suggesting that the Conservatives potential pool of voters — those Canadians who would consider voting for the party — have different priorities from its traditional, largely Western base.
Abacus pollster David Coletto noted that the potential voters are younger and more diverse than the party’s base, and are looking for a credible climate change plan.
The data also suggests that while Conservative voters have negative views of Trudeau, potential voters cut the prime minister more slack.
“The party can win under two scenarios: One, people are so angry with Mr. Trudeau that they default to the Conservatives or, two, the Conservatives find a way to appeal to potential supporters and convince them they have a better vision and plan for the country,” Coletto concluded.
“Based on current data, scenario one looks untenable. The only path, in my view, is to find a way to appeal to a broader coalition without alienating the base.”
In his speech, O’Toole repeatedly appealed to rank-and-file members to let him broaden their coalition. He appealed directly to working-class voters, suggesting the New Democrats no longer represents them.
“Private sector union workers share so many of our values of hard-work, family and community … They should be voting Conservative,” O’Toole said.
“And if we have the courage to change our approach with organized labour to open our tent to them, we will win their trust.”
O’Toole also promised a “comprehensive” and “serious” climate change plan — even as he quadruple-downed on rescinding the Liberal government’s carbon-pricing system.
“We have now fought and lost two elections against a carbon tax because voters did not think we were serious about addressing climate change,” O’Toole said.
“And I will not allow 338 candidates to defend against the lie from the Liberals that we are a party of climate change deniers.”
The Conservative party convention continues Saturday, with O’Toole participating in a noon-hour question and answer session.