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Tory Leader O’Toole wants less western alienation, greater use of natural resources

Tuesday, August 25, 2020 @ 4:24 PM | By Terry Davidson


In his first press conference as leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole said he is ready for a federal election and talked of needing a plan to expedite COVID-19 aid and use the country’s “strength in natural resources” to reverse the economic downturn.

It was the late morning of Aug. 25 that O’Toole stepped in front of news reporters for his first formal news conference since being elected by the party to take the place of outgoing leader Andrew Scheer.

Erin O’Toole, new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

O’Toole talked of needs: the need to have ethical government; the need to break down the walls of “western alienation”; the need have a solid plan to get through the ongoing health crisis; the need for a unified and inclusive country.

“I want more Canadians to see a Conservative when they look in the mirror — union members, small business owners, new Canadians and more women,” said O’Toole. “If you want the opportunity to work hard to provide for your family, you should be voting Conservative.”

O’Toole’s election as Tory leader comes during turbulent times for the ruling Liberals.   

On Aug. 18 embattled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament, saying the country needed a throne speech so a new plan could be put forth on how to deal with the health crisis.

Tories, however, have accused Trudeau of dissolving Parliament to stifle House of Commons committee investigations into why he and former finance minister Bill Morneau failed to recuse themselves from a cabinet decision to award a student grant contract to WE Charity, even though both men had family members who benefited financially from the organization.

Parliament will resume Sept. 23. But if the Liberals’ reset plan falls to a confidence vote, Canadians would find themselves headed for an earlier-than-planned election.

“Justin Trudeau would rather play politics than do his job,” said O’Toole. “Even now, with our country still in a crisis, he may be trying to trigger an early election. Because of that, I may soon be asking Canadians for the chance to serve as prime minister so we can get this country back on track.”

O’Toole did not get into which way his party will go with a confidence vote.

O’Toole mentioned an Aug. 24 meeting with Trudeau — his first as Tory leader — and said he raised “deep concerns” about the alienation of Western Canada and expressed a need “to address real and serious national … unity issues.”

During a short question and answer session, O’Toole was asked about this and what could be done during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

He talked of the West’s wealth of natural resources.  

“The reason I raised that question directly with the prime minister … is they are planning a throne speech and economic rebuilding plan, and if they continue to leave out the ability for our resource sector to get Canadian resources to market, we’re going to see more western alienation. We’re going to see less jobs and opportunity for Canadians in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. So, we need to make sure that Canada’s strength in natural resources is part of that economic plan. We can do that while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we have to be proud of what we produce here in Canada.”

The long-standing sore spot of western province alienation includes a dispute between Ottawa and Alberta over the Trans Mountain pipeline in B.C. and Saskatchewan’s protest of the federal carbon tax.

According to a 2018 Ipsos poll, three-quarters of western Canadians believe “there is a unique western Canadian identity.”

O’Toole talked of a need for greater respect for provincial autonomy and less of an “Ottawa knows best” approach.

“It has to do with the ability of any Canadian province to live to its potential and provide job opportunities for its people. It’s about respecting our Constitution and … provincial autonomy in areas of the economy and a number of areas. It’s about collaboration, not confrontation, and we’ve seen a Liberal government, over four years, force an ‘Ottawa knows best’ approach — not just in the West, but with Quebec, with Ontario. I want to make sure we partner for the well-being of Canadians.”

O’Toole was also asked about Tory concerns around how the Liberals have handled COVID-19 aid provision and what he thinks should be done differently.  

“I think the Liberal Party was a month and a half slow with the border [controls], slow with [personal protective equipment] and slow with the wage subsidy and economic responses. I’m here to fight for the well-being of Canadians across the country and for better solutions, faster responses and excellence in government. … If Mr. Trudeau thinks he can play some games with the new leader and force an election, we’ll be ready, but I will also hold him to account.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.