The Morning Brief – 03.24.21

By Bruce Carson


A rather pedestrian Conservative Party Policy convention until the resolution that described climate change as real was defeated.

A speech by Erin O’Toole early Friday evening challenged the membership to have the courage to be bold and change.

The speech looked beyond the pandemic towards recovery, given that the coming election will be about competing recovery plans.

A speech setting out in broad strokes a five point recovery plan.

O’Toole described a Conservative Party open to all, but must change in order take on the Liberals and win government, which, after all, is the goal.

The challenge to party members and those watching was to envisage a Conservative Party breaking with the bonds of the last two elections, striking out, pursuing bold, courageous change—perhaps the next big idea. To succeed, the party has to be one of ideas, new ideas that move Canada successfully into and through the recovery phase, post-COVID-19.

Move past the more than 20,000 COVID-19 related deaths, unemployment, scarring and slow rollout of vaccines.

O’Toole described Canada as being at a cross-road. This wouldn’t be the first time, or the last, that a federal political leader would describe Canada in this way, but on this occasion, O’Toole

may be right.

Going forward Canadians will have the choice of a reimagined Trudeau economy, featuring Trudeau vanity projects or a more “meat and potatoes” approach reaching out and helping working families, increasing manufacturing, with increasing wages.

In order to do this O’Toole set out his five point Canada Recovery Plan. Some made the comparison to Harper’s five point plan in 2006 revealed after the Christmas break in the 2005-06 election. The Harper plan was easier to set out in some detail as while the platform had not been completely released, the five points had already had significant discussion during the campaign.

A criticism of O’Toole’s plan was that many matters were left out of the plan. He will be pressed to commit that increased health care funding, dealing with the tragedy of long term care homes and other matters will be set out in the election platform. Arguably the five point plan is to provide focus for the party, its members and voters.

Jobs: The recovery plan promises the creation of one million jobs in year one, rebuilding jobs on Main Street, with incentives to start new businesses. Presumably the necessary supports such as childcare are included in this promise.

Ethics and Accountability: Presumably over the next few weeks and months the Ethics Commissioner will release a report on WE Charity—Trudeau III and that report should dovetail with the promise of ethics and accountability.

Mental Health: Recognition that Canada is in a mental health crisis and a Conservative government would put the resources necessary towards it. Mental health issues brought on by isolation during COVID-19, eating disorders, increased opioid abuse, and concern for the mental health of children were set out by O’Toole. He argues for a Mental Health Action Plan developed with the provinces.

Prepare for the next Disaster: This would ensure that Canada is never unprepared again. It would involve partnering with the pharmaceutical industry and overhauling Canada’s approach to emergency preparedness.

Balanced Budget: Budget will be balanced in the next decade. While this promise will not stave off calls by other parties and some sectors that cuts are looming, O’Toole talked about getting spending under control, targeted stimulus and the need to get revenues flowing again.

There was a section of the speech which focussed directly on Quebec and its demands, taking on the Liberals and the Bloc.

On climate change, there were no details but O’Toole said protecting the environment and tackling climate change are “core Conservative values.” He said we all want a greener future, but climate change will not be solved on the backs of Canadians. Getting the economy back on track is job one.

O’Toole said the party will present a credible, comprehensive serious climate change plan.

While the speech said very little about foreign policy, one of the strongest moments came near the end when O’Toole talked about the role the Mulroney government played supporting Nelson Mandela and bringing Apartheid to an end. He compared this with Trudeau and his cabinet’s abstention on the House of Commons vote on the Uyghur genocide. O’Toole stated “we will be leaders again.”

Then the vote on the climate change policy resolution was announced and it seemed that the leader’s pronouncement that “the debate is over” and “we cannot ignore the reality of climate change” had crumbled to dust.

This is possibly the part of the convention that John Ivison described as a “comedy of errors.” Another way of characterizing it would be “other than that Mr. O’Toole, how was the convention.”

The answer to the negative vote was that the policies of the party already contain a pronouncement on climate change which advocates for an effective international regime on climate change which must be truly global and must include binding targets for all of the world’s major emitters, including China and the United States.

It would be naïve to believe that the defeat of the climate change resolution has not given the Liberals and other parties a rather large stick to beat the Conservatives with from now until voting day. It started on Monday in question period and will continue.

It is now up to O’Toole to demonstrate the strength of his leadership, bat away the criticism and emerge sooner than later with a solid, comprehensive environment and climate change plan.

If Canada is at a crossroad, O’Toole’s leadership has been placed at a crossroad- and he has to respond and produce not only on climate change but on the other matters in his Recovery Plan.

As Paul Wells said on Sunday, there is not much time before a campaign starts. There is much work to be done in a short period; hopefully a good deal of it is well underway. Fleshing out the policies outlined on Friday is not the only thing to be done before Prime Minister Trudeau decides the time is right to pull the plug on this parliament and regain a majority.

There is candidate recruitment; candidates who support the leader and will not knock the campaign off the rails as it gets started or even worse near the end when there is little time to respond. The Conservative Party had experience with both in the 2004 election.

O’Toole should consider giving a series of speeches across the country, either virtually or in person when that is safe to do, based on his Recovery Plan.

The ball is in O’Toole’s hands; it is now time to lead. It is now all about leadership!!

To Come

  • Ontario presents its budget
March 25
  • Quebec presents its budget
  • The Supreme Court of Canada to release its decision on the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax
March 31
  • GDP numbers for January to be released