Conservative MPs returning to Parliament Hill appeared uncharacteristically eager to share their thoughts on Thursday as they entered their first post-election caucus meeting.
Almost none of the party’s big names dodged reporters, with most talking openly about the Conservative defeat and where the party should go from here. Former prime minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, entered through a door at the back of Centre Block normally reserved for freight and deliveries. He did not answer questions.
“It’s not like 1993 in terms of cataclysmic disaster,” said Tony Clement, former president of the Treasury Board, as he was swarmed by journalists.
“At the same time, look, we ran a campaign that was not successful. Let’s be honest about that. That’s all the past now. Now it’s time to turn the page and talk about how we can get to the future.”
Saskatchewan MP Tom Lukiwski, meanwhile, cut right to the chase.
“Frankly, I think we have to completely rehabilitate our image,” he said.
“And that’s not a disparaging remark or a shot at the outgoing prime minister, but unfortunately, Canadians didn’t like him. I’ve always said that if Prime Minister Harper had the likability of (Saskatchewan Premier) Brad Wall, we’d be in majority territory.”
The caucus, Lukiwski added, saw a side of Harper that “was warm and funny and caring and compassionate.”
“I, and many other caucus members from time to time, would say ‘Mr. Prime Minister, why don’t you go on television and do a state of the nation address and let Canadians see you as we see you?’ And for some reason he chose not to do that.”
Former defence minister Jason Kenney said his party is “in no rush” as it moves into the next phase.
“I think fundamentally, our record as a government was incredibly positive. We got the big things right … we got the tone wrong,” Kenney remarked.
Candice Bergen, one of eight contenders for the role of interim leader of the party, said she and her caucus colleagues “have a lot of things to talk about” in their meeting on Thursday, in which they are expected to make some critical decisions on four provisions in the new Reform Act championed by Tory MP Michael Chong.
Those decisions will include how caucus members might be expelled and reinstated, a new process for electing caucus chairs, and a review of when and how future leadership reviews will take place.
There is also the question of who will be permitted to vote to elect the interim leader, which Lukiwski predicted would be the trickiest question of the day. Conservative senators may be left out of the voting process, depending on what the caucus decides.
Once all of that business is out of the way, the interim leader is expected to be chosen. He or she will have a tough job ahead as the party prepares to organize a race for the permanent leadership while serving as official opposition in the House of Commons.