by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
Patrick Brown has already taken the Ontario Progressive Conservative party in a new direction since becoming its leader — now he’s encouraging his former federal colleagues to do the same as they try to reinvent themselves in the post-Harper era.
On Saturday afternoon, over 300 people filled a warehouse in Barrie, Ontario to hear from Brown and six current Conservative MPs, all of whom are at least exploring the possibility of running for the Conservative party leadership.
The event was called “Conservative Futures” and the majority of them were confident about the party’s prospects in 2019, convinced the Liberal government will defeat itself through a combination of bigger-than-promised deficits, unmet promises, and arrogance.
Fewer, however, were willing to really look critically at the past — and specifically the last election.
Patrick Brown was an exception.
“(It’s) important to have this pause and understand where mistakes have been made so we can go into the future with a sense of conviction that we’re on the right path. My sense, showing up to probably about 1,000 cultural events in the last year in the GTA, is that if we do not defend minority communities of every religion, of every race, then every other cultural group will say: are we next?” he told the crowd.
“I think we lost our way when we did not say that unequivocally. I think there were mistakes made, and I think we have to learn from that.”
Reconnecting with ethnocultural communities
As both his and Jason Kenney’s persistent outreach to different ethnic communities have proved, Brown added, many ethnic minorities share Conservative values. But the party went “too far” with its niqab rhetoric during the federal election campaign.
They alienated voters they’d spent years bringing into the Conservative tent.
It was a blunt assessment that only Conservative MP Michael Chong would come close to matching on Saturday.
“I think it’s clear in the last election we lost the ethnocultural communities in this country, and we need to regain their trust,” Chong said.
He then recounted the struggles his father faced as a Chinese immigrant to the country in the 1950s, only four years after the repeal of the Chinese exclusion act. And the struggles he faced as a “mixed-race kid” growing up in rural Ontario in the 1970s.
“I tell you these stories because we need to reconnect with ethnocultural communities. We need to tell them that we understand the challenges of coming to a new country, often with a foreign language. We need to tell them that we understand the barriers that they face; that we understand their fears, hopes, and aspirations; that we understand the plight of Syrian refugees coming to this country, scared, facing an environment unknown,” he said.
Closer to turning the page
Though Chong acknowledged the mistakes, he didn’t mention the niqab specifically. Nor did he mention the barbaric cultural practices tip line Conservative candidates Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander introduced in the final weeks of the last campaign, and which was met with widespread scorn and derision.
Leitch, who spoke of the need for tolerance on Saturday, didn’t touch on it either.
“We know as Conservatives that we have to make sure that every Canadian is treated fairly and equally,” she said.
“We are the party where families of all religious backgrounds, of all ethnic backgrounds, have a home. As Patrick was mentioning, Jason Kenney has done outstanding work in reaching out to so many different groups across this country. He did a remarkable job. And he had many of us join him in doing that.”
A few weeks ago at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, it was clear Conservatives were still bothered by the divisive identity politics that featured so prominently in the last campaign.
On Saturday in Barrie, five months to the day Canadians replaced a Conservative majority with a Liberal one, they came a bit closer to turning the page.
But they didn’t get all the way there.
“The reality is, in four years there will be people looking for change,” Brown said. “And if the Conservative Party has the courage to talk in a positive fashion…I believe there’s going to be a lot more Conservative MPs, and one of the people running for this Conservative leadership will be the prime minister of Canada.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.