'Not your dad's Conservative party,' Erin O'Toole says, before endorsement from Mulroney

Back on the road with five days left to pitch his party to Canadians as the best placed to govern, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole took a new tack on Wednesday, appealing directly to voters who may not have considered voting Conservative before, before receiving a notable endorsement from former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

O’Toole said that his party, like others, has let down voters in the past, and asserted that under his leadership things will change, something his predecessor emphasized as well.

“Today, I want to talk to the many Canadians who are beginning to tune in to this election in its final days, and maybe—hopefully—looking at the Conservatives for the first time,” O’Toole said at a campaign event at a legion in a Bloc Quebecois-held riding north of Quebec City.

“I know some of you may be hesitant because of things you may have heard or impressions that are a little out of date… I understand that for years you’ve been let down by Mr. Trudeau and the by the Liberal government, but really if we’re being honest, you’ve been let down by parties of all stripes, mine included at times.”

Asked what he feels his party has let Canadians down on in the past, O’Toole cited past Conservative climate policies, engagement with working Canadians and union leaders, and outreach to cultural communities. 

With public opinion polls continuing to show the Conservatives are in a close race with the Liberals, the boost in support O’Toole saw early in the campaign seemed to level off in the last week. Though, the latest Nanos Research data has O’Toole slightly ahead in national ballot support after a gradual increase in support in recent days.

In his address, the Tory leader sought to make his case to voters who might have previously written off his party or didn’t feel they belonged in the so-called “big blue tent.”

“I just want to say up front that I know my party has ground to make up, so I’m here to listen to you. I want to know your thoughts, your hopes, fears, and dreams, and I hope when Monday rolls around, even if you’re uncertain about your vote, you’ll look at Canada’s Conservatives a little differently,” he said.

This echoed a sentiment he first shared when he was elected as the latest Conservative leader in 2020; that he wanted more Canadians to see a Conservative when they looked in the mirror.

“From the first day of my leadership, my priority has been to build a Conservative movement where every Canadian can feel at home… We’re not your dad’s Conservative party anymore,” he said Wednesday.

MULRONEY BACKS O’TOOLE

Though, some questions were raised about the veracity of O’Toole describing his party as not the same one as generations past after former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney landed in for an evening campaign stop in Orford, Que.

Mulroney, who was prime minister between 1984 and 1993, threw his support strongly behind O’Toole, saying he is “steady, strong, and visionary,”

“Active politics requires courage and selflessness. To seek high office in today's political, media and social media environment, all Canadian political leaders in this campaign obviously have that courage and are well-intentioned,” Mulroney said. “I’m not here tonight to attack anybody. I'm here for one single reason: to help elect Erin O'Toole as the next prime minister of Canada.”

He compared the political landscape O’Toole is facing now to the months leading up to his own win for the then-Progressive Conservatives, recalling that O’Toole called him months before the election call cautioning of pollsters predicting a defeat under his leadership. Mulroney says he then told O’Toole that he “should be thrilled” because that’s what was said about him before defeating the Liberals and forming the largest majority government in Canadian history.

“A great nation like Canada is entitled to, and needs a combination of visions and dreams. Of such things was Canada shaped and brought to life by the leadership of great men in the Conservative Party: Sir John A Macdonald, and George-Étienne Cartier, which gave birth to Canada 154 years ago,” Mulroney said.

QUESTIONED ON ‘ZERO TOLERANCE’

Facing questions about how his pitch as a different Conservative party squares with allowing candidates who have shared racist, conspiratorial, and anti-vaccine views to remain under his party banner, O’Toole did not directly answer.

He said that he’s “a new leader with a new style,” vowing that he would work to act against intolerance and have a “zero-tolerance approach to racism.”

“I'm very proud to say that we have the most diverse slate of candidates that we've ever had,” he said. 

Over the course of the campaign, O’Toole has sought to pitch a more progressive version of the party than the one led by his predecessor Andrew Scheer, though the Liberals have made efforts to draw attention to his past “true blue” brand of conservativism and his years in the Stephen Harper government.

'NOT THE WAY FORWARD': TRUDEAU

Through attack ads and in social media posts the Liberal Party and its candidates have pointed to past opposition to the carbon tax, advancing motions on abortion, and a vote on the stalled-out conversion therapy bill that saw the majority of the Conservative caucus vote against imposing a ban, though O’Toole voted in favour.

On Wednesday at his own campaign stop, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the Conservative Party’s approach is “not the way forward,” continuing to call out how O’Toole has said things during this campaign that are incongruent with his past positions.

“We're the ones who are positioned to stop Erin O'Toole and the Conservatives from taking Canada back,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Halifax Wednesday morning. “The Conservatives seem to be putting forward the wrong choices on a whole bunch of things.”

It remains to be seen whether O’Toole’s message that if electors want change, the Conservatives are the “only option,” will be one he looks to drill home in the coming days as his campaign plans to stay on the road visiting key ridings through to Sept. 20.