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ANALYSIS: The climate change gap between O’Toole and his party may be too much to overcome

Click to play video: 'O’Toole’s Conservatives face climate change challenge' O’Toole’s Conservatives face climate change challenge
The federal Conservatives are divided on climate change. Leader Erin O'Toole proposed to recognize it in the Conservatives' official policy document, but a majority of the party's grassroots shot that down. David Akin looks at how this hurts O'Toole's efforts to attract more voters – Mar 23, 2021

It might seem so obvious a point that one might overlook it when evaluating what we already know about the climate change plan the Conservatives will campaign on in the next general election but here it is anyway: Conservatives must win votes from people who did not vote for them in 2019 or in 2015.

And poll after poll after poll has indicated that one of the primary reasons voters chose another party over the Conservatives was climate change. Non-Conservative voters do not believe Conservatives are serious about climate change or, only slightly less worse, that the party’s plans to do anything about it were or are credible.

So if those who avoided voting Conservative in the last two elections are to be convinced to do so in the next general election, leader Erin O’Toole and his team know they must do better on climate change and O’Toole said as much Tuesday.

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“Climate change is an important subject that Canadians want to see that we have a serious plan on. We will have that,” O’Toole told reporters Tuesday on Parliament Hill, in his first press conference since the weekend’s Conservative party convention where the grassroots of the party dealt O’Toole a blow on this file from which he may not be able to recover.

That blow, of course, was the decision by a majority of members to vote down a proposal that would have inserted a declaration into the party’s official policy document that “Climate change is real.”

Read more: Conservative party members vote down resolution to officially recognize climate change

O’Toole says that he thinks climate change is real and that the science is settled but a significant number of his party members do not. Simply take a look at what the advocacy group Campaign Life Coalition was circulating to its supporters within the party — of which there are many — in its “Voters Guide for Socon Delegates” ahead of the convention vote on the “climate change is real” declaration:

“The science on man-made global warming theory is in dispute,” the Campaign Life Coalition falsely declared. “Global warming alarmism is being used by global elites and the United Nations to advance population control through abortion and sterilization.”

None of those claims are correct but worse for O’Toole and his prospects to be prime minister, many non-Conservative voters will believe that Conservatives really do hold such false and outrageous views on an issue which most non-Conservative voters think is a top issue.

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“I think certainly it makes a difference to voters. I think all Canadians agree that we are up against a crisis and that we need to do something about it,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said this week in the wake of that Conservative convention vote.

Click to play video: 'Growing worries within Tories over O’Toole’s leadership' Growing worries within Tories over O’Toole’s leadership
Growing worries within Tories over O’Toole’s leadership – Mar 8, 2021

Again, O’Toole would seem to agree.

“I’m the leader,” O’Toole said Tuesday. “And this is an important issue facing Canadians. It’s important to me as a father of young children.”

But, as Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet noted minutes later, there is an inconsistency that may be too much to overcome between O’Toole’s message and the beliefs of too many in his own party.

“It is a test of being coherent And that might prove a challenge for the Conservatives,” Blanchet said. “Perhaps (O’Toole) should say, OK, this is what my party is: They deny climate change. People in Canada and Quebec will have to make a choice.”

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David Akin is the Chief Political Correspondent for Global News.

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