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Party unity, election prep top priorities for new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole

Click to play video: 'Challenges ahead for new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole' Challenges ahead for new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole
As Erin O'Toole celebrates winning the Conservative leadership race, Mercedes Stephenson looks at what O'Toole needs to do to win over more Canadians, and how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals might react – Aug 24, 2020

Newly elected Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has a new task on his hands: uniting the party.

After a leadership campaign that was forced to pivot repeatedly in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and a physically distanced convention that was hampered by malfunctions with ballot-opening machines, O’Toole is waiting to take questions from reporters about his plans for what comes next.

He did say though he wants to make sure the party is united and ready to take on an election as soon as this fall following a leadership race that saw frequent debate on whether the party should incorporate more progressive conservative policies, and how much influence social conservatives should have.

“Today you have given me a clear mission: to unite our party, to champion conservative principles, to show what we know so well,” O’Toole said in his victory speech urging the party to come together and attract new voters who might not normally vote Conservative.

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He accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of failing to look out for Canadians. “We will be proposing a vision of a stronger Canada: a more united and prosperous Canada.”

READ MORE: A look at the new Conservative leader and what he is promising

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Challenges ahead for new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole – Aug 24, 2020

While past party leadership conventions usually entail a press conference directly following a victory speech, the ballot opening delays pushed those results into the early hours Monday, leading to a delay in the timing of a press conference.

By the time O’Toole finally took the stage at an Ottawa hotel space kept nearly empty because of physical distancing requirements, it was roughly 2 a.m. ET.

READ MORE: Erin O’Toole is the new leader of the Conservative Party, wins on third ballot

Click to play video: 'Erin O’Toole delivers first speech as new Conservative Party leader | FULL' Erin O’Toole delivers first speech as new Conservative Party leader | FULL
Erin O’Toole delivers first speech as new Conservative Party leader | FULL – Aug 24, 2020

O’Toole campaign officials say he plans to hold a press conference on Tuesday, and he was expected to spend most of his first day as leader in meetings.

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One of those included a conversation with Trudeau.

According to an official with the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau offered O’Toole any briefings he would be interested in receiving including one with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on the state of the pandemic.

O’Toole has not said when the Conservatives might try to bring down the minority Liberal government and trigger an election, but said the party needs to be ready in case a federal vote comes this fall.

Former Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay, who lost to O’Toole on the third ballot, also issued a call for unity in a tweet Monday afternoon.

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“It’s now time for our (Conservative) party and movement to come together, and to focus on what’s most important: ensuring our country gets moving in the right direction again,” MacKay tweeted.

ANALYSIS: End of Andrew Scheer era means shift eastward for Conservative power

Leslyn Lewis, the Toronto-area lawyer who finished third in the race, also tweeted her support for the new leader and the need for the party to work together.

“Now is the time to work together and make sure a strong and united Conservative Party is ready to win the next election,” she tweeted.

Already though, O’Toole — who ran on a platform he described as “true blue” conservative principles — drew the ire of former party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier, who quit the Conservatives to form his own far-right fringe party in 2018 and then failed to win any seats in the 2019 election, including his own.

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Party unity, election prep top priorities for new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole - image

Bernier accused the newly minted Conservative leader of wearing a “true blue” mask during the leadership campaign and warned that he is really “Liberal-lite.”

“He put on a ‘true blue’ mask only for strategic reasons: to be the second choice of the less well-known candidates, Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan,” Bernier said in a news conference in Ottawa.

Click to play video: 'Derek Sloan drops off following first ballot in CPC leadership vote' Derek Sloan drops off following first ballot in CPC leadership vote
Derek Sloan drops off following first ballot in CPC leadership vote – Aug 24, 2020

“But I have a message for the supporters of these candidates: don’t be fooled. He got what he wanted. Now that he is the leader, the mask will fall. He will take your support for granted.”

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Bernier went on to suggest that after running a leadership campaign aimed at winning support from social conservatives, O’Toole would shift directions and try to steal votes from the Liberals by proposing more centrist policies.

— With files from the Canadian Press.

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