Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says he’s confident his party will maintain broad support across Alberta — and possibly turn the only non-Conservative riding in the province blue — if an election is called in short order.
“I think we’ll not only hold our seats … but we’re going to go after the last one, because I can’t see anyone living in this province that hasn’t seen the attack on Alberta’s prosperity and its way of life that has been conducted by (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau from his first minutes in office,” O’Toole said Thursday in Calgary.
The only federal riding in Alberta that didn’t go Conservative in the 2019 election was Edmonton Strathcona in the province’s capital. That seat is held by NDP MP Heather McPherson.
O’Toole positioned himself as a “true partner” for Alberta during a news conference.
He said a Conservative-led country would restore fairness to Albertans who have paid more than their “fair share” to Canada. Instead of “bullying and lecturing” from the federal government, O’Toole pledged Conservatives would listen to Albertans and protect their autonomy.
Ending the “mistreatment to western Canadians” starts with reforming the fiscal stabilization program, said O’Toole.
The Conservatives would change the program as outlined in 2019 by premiers across the country when they called on the federal government to lift the per-capita cap and make it retroactive to 2015.
O’Toole’s visit to Calgary signals a return to where it all started. The Ontario MP began his bid to win the leadership of the federal party in the city in January 2020 before the arrival of COVID-19.
Since then, he has spent much of his time as leader speaking to business groups and holding town halls online.
That has no doubt been challenging getting more Canadians to know who he is, which has become increasingly important as speculation swirls that Trudeau is preparing to call an election this summer or fall.
Recent polls suggest the Liberals maintain a lead over the Conservatives and, at this point, would be likely to stay in government if a vote were to be held.
O’Toole believes Canadians are ready for change.
“Canadians, including here in Alberta, want to see the country move forward again, want to see an economic recovery including in our energy sector,” he said.
“They want to see unity in this country again and they are not going to get it from a prime minister who has divided this country.”
O’Toole’s stop in Calgary followed a Wednesday appearance by Trudeau, who announced money for transit and took repeated questions about whether he would call an election. He told one radio host: “It doesn’t.”
O’Toole made his own campaign-style promise in a video posted Thursday in which he said that, if elected, a Conservative government would provide funding for a Surrey Langley SkyTrain expansion in B.C.
During his visit, Trudeau also met with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a key ally for O’Toole during his leadership race.
A spokesperson for Kenney did not respond when asked about a meeting with O’Toole.
O’Toole’s visit to the Conservative heartland comes after he earlier this year outlined a carbon price policy on fuel — something Conservative MPs spent years fighting.
He argues his climate plan is better for jobs than Trudeau’s and would still hit emissions goals. Many western supporters still viewed the move as a betrayal of his earlier stand to axe the policy.
Broadening the Conservative base has been a priority for O’Toole, who said that’s why he modernized the party’s climate policy and has been clear that he stands up for abortion and LGBTQ rights. Many believe lack of a definitive stand on those issues hurt the party’s chances in the 2019 election.
During O’Toole’s visit, he will attend the Calgary Stampede and appear at a $500-a-ticket meet-and-greet event with Calgary Centre MP Greg McLean to ramp up support if an election comes.
McLean won back the riding from the Liberals in 2019 by defeating former Liberal MP Kent Hehr.
Following his visit to Calgary, O’Toole will head to British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Alanna Smith and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
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