Federal Conservatives need to be clear about what they stand for if the party is to avoid accusations of a policy flip-flop that has dogged it over the past two election campaigns.
That’s according to the author of the post-mortem report on the Conservatives’ performance in the 2021 federal election. James Cummings spoke with The West Block guest host Eric Sorenson asked if criticism of political flip-flops – on everything from guns to climate change – was fair.
“I think political campaigns are different. They have ups and downs, and, you know, there are issues that come up as you go,” he said.
“There were just a lot of things going on that made it a very, very difficult campaign for all parties. But I think Canadians want to hear from the Conservatives and the Conservative Party on the details of what they stand for, and be decisive about what they stand for and why it will impact Canadians.
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Cummings lost his seat in Alberta during the 2021 campaign. He was tasked by the party to conduct a review of the factors that prevented the Conservatives from winning the election.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has faced criticism within his own caucus following failed efforts to oust the Liberals from power, but he has retained the leadership so far.
There are, however, ongoing attempts in a handful of constituency associations to overhaul his leadership, and he has been accused of failing to deliver on a promise he made when he asked the party leadership to run as a Tory “true blue”.
Several of the positions O’Toole took during the federal election contradicted those he had taken during this leadership campaign, including changing policies on carbon pricing and laws prohibiting the use of what Federal liberals call it “aggression” or “aggression-style weapons”.
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Neither assault nor assault are legal classifications under Canadian law, but are frequently used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to describe firearms that resemble those used by military personnel in combat and which can be used to kill large numbers of people very quickly.
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Automatic weapons are already banned in Canada.
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O’Toole’s platform had promised to repeal a 2020 Liberal executive order banning some 1,500 “assault” and “military-grade” firearms. The Tory leader said in one of the French-language election debates that he would not repeal the ban on assault rifles, which quickly sparked demands for clarity.
His team later said O’Toole meant he wouldn’t roll back the decades-old ban on fully automatic weapons – which no one in the campaign was proposing to lift in the first place.
However, the comments caused days of confusion as reporters sought this clarification, and Liberal campaign teams soon began claiming that O’Toole was working on behalf of the gun lobby.
It came after O’Toole spent months defending his environmental plan, including a carbon pricing proposal, after campaigning during the leadership race on a promise to scrap the ‘Trudeau carbon tax’ and to oppose any form of “future national carbon tax”. or a cap and trade system.
O’Toole’s proposal would have capped the carbon price at $50 a ton.
Although well below the $170 a ton price that will occur over the next few years under the Liberal plan, it remained a point of contention within the party long after its introduction.
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Cummings said the party needed to be able to come together if it was to succeed in forming a government – a challenge at a time when he noted the country was more divided than ever.
“At the end of the day, you have to come together and be able to come up with positions that you can all agree on. My personal opinion is that I have never seen the country so divided. I am saddened by this, but there are many things we can agree on. And I think within the Conservative movement, within the Conservative Party, there are a lot of things we can agree on,” he said.
“These are the things we need to focus on in the party: what are the things that bring us together and what are the things that divide us?”
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