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Tories’ election review calls for more diverse candidates, greater outreach: sources

Former Alberta MP James Cumming was tasked with leading a post-mortem of the party’s election loss
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speaks during a news conference responding to the federal government’s COVID-19 response on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A report on how the Conservatives fared in last year’s election calls on the party to recruit more diverse candidates and conduct better outreach into different cultural communities, where the party’s brand is still damaged from the divisive 2015 campaign.

Three Conservative sources, who were briefed on the report presented to the national caucus Thursday, shared some of its findings and recommendations. The sources spokeon the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The Canadian Press has not viewed the report.

Former Alberta MP James Cumming was tasked with leading a post-mortem of the party’s election loss last fall by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, whose leadership is under scrutiny by some members of caucus as well as the grassroots.

Cumming has said previously that he spoke with around 400 people to put together the report.

As leader, O’Toole has set his sights on growing the party, particularly in the suburbs and communities around Toronto, which are key electoral battlegrounds where Tories struggled to make gains in the last campaign.

The sources say the review recommends that for the next election the party find ways to recruit a more diverse slate of candidates.

The report also pinpoints that the party needs to improve how it reaches out to different cultural communities where in some the Conservative brand is damaged, according to sources.

They said the review found that in major cities, the party is still dealing with fallout from the 2015 campaign, when former prime minister Stephen Harper was seeking re-election. The party promised at the time to set up a tip line for “barbaric cultural practices,” which was heavily criticized.

Sources say the review recommends the party do better outreach through improving its communication. One example provided was the need to be on the messaging app WeChat, which is used by some Chinese Canadians.

In the last election the Conservatives lost three ridings in Metro Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area that are home to many residents of Chinese descent. That left some in the party wondering about the domestic impact of O’Toole’s tough criticism of Beijing’s actions.

O’Toole’s critics in caucus were more keenly watching what the review had to say about his performance.

The report lands at a time when some MPs question his ability to lead and he faces calls from within the grassroots, including three riding associations, to undergo an early leadership review by mid-June instead of waiting until 2023.

Two of the sources say the review found O’Toole was better received by Canadians when he was campaigning on the road, rather than from the broadcast studio the party set up in a downtown Ottawa hotel as part of its election planning for the COVID-19 pandemic.

One added the report identified better planning was needed to prepare for attacks on issues that have been used as wedges against Conservatives, such as firearms.

In the last race, O’Toole inked a footnote into his platform to clarify he would maintain the Liberal government’s ban on so-called assault-style weapons, despite the campaign document promising the opposite.

He was also dogged with questions related to the pandemic, namely his position on vaccine mandates and the immunization status of his candidates.

In the final weeks of the race, sources said the review found O’Toole was overly managed rather than allowed to be himself.

According to the sources, the review concluded that Canadians generally lack trust in the party because of its well-reported infighting and the fact that it has gone through two leadership races in the past five years, which has also made it difficult to tackle issues around outreach.

In 2017, Andrew Scheer was elected Conservative leader following the 2015 defeat and led the party in the 2019 election before he resigned after an intense pressure campaign for him to step aside. O’Toole won the party reins in 2020.

—Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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