The federal Conservatives must be clear on the things they stand for if the party wants to avoid the accusations of flip-flopping on policies that have dogged it for the last two election campaigns.
That’s according to the author of the post-mortem report on the Conservative performance in the 2021 federal election. James Cummings spoke with The West Block guest host Eric Sorenson about whether the criticisms of policy flip-flops – over everything from guns to climate change – were fair.
“I think political campaigns are different. They have ebbs and flows, and, you know, there’s issues that come up as you go along,” he said.
“There was just a lot going on that made it a very, very difficult campaign for all parties. But I do think that Canadians want to hear from Conservatives and from the Conservative Party on specifics about what they stand for, and be decisive on what they stand for and why it will be impactful for Canadians.”
Cummings lost his seat in Alberta in the 2021 campaign. He was brought on by the party to conduct a review of what factors prevented the Conservatives from winning the election.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole came under fire from within his own caucus following the failed effort to oust the Liberals from power, but has held onto the leadership so far.
There are attempts underway in a handful of riding associations to review his leadership though, and he has been accused of not following through on a promise made when he sought the party leadership to run as a “true blue” Conservative.
Several of the positions O’Toole took during the federal election contradicted those that he had made during that leadership campaign, including shifting policies on carbon pricing and on laws prohibiting the use of what the federal Liberals refer to as “assault” or “assault-style” weapons.
Neither assault nor assault-style are legal classifications under Canadian law, but are frequently used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to describe firearms that resemble those used by militaries in combat, and that can be used to kill a large number of people very quickly.
Automatic weapons are already prohibited in Canada.
O’Toole’s platform had promised to repeal a 2020 Liberal executive order banning some 1,500 “assault” and “military-grade” firearms. The Conservative leader said in one of the French-language election debates that he would not repeal the ban on assault rifles, which quickly sparked demands for clarity.
His team later said that O’Toole meant he would not reverse the decades-old ban on fully automatic weapons — which no one in the campaign was proposing lifting in the first place.
However, the comments caused days of confusion as reporters sought to get that clarification, and the Liberal campaign teams quickly began asserting O’Toole was working on behalf of the gun lobby.
That came after O’Toole had spent months defending his environmental plan, including a proposal to price carbon, after he campaigned during the leadership race on a promise to axe the “Trudeau carbon tax” and oppose any kind of a “future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.”
O’Toole’s proposal would have capped the price on carbon at $50 per tonne.
While much lower than the $170-per-tonne price that will happen over coming years under the Liberal plan, it remained a point of contention among the party long after being introduced.
Cummings said the party needs to be able to come together if they want to make a successful bid to form government — a challenge amid a time when he noted the country is more divided than ever.
“At the end of the day, you have to come together and be able to come up with positions that you can all agree on. My personal opinion is I’ve never seen the country so divided. I’m saddened by it, but there’s lots that we can agree on. And I think within the Conservative movement, in the Conservative Party, there’s plenty that we can agree on,” he said.
“Those are the things we have to focus on within the party: what are the things that bring us together versus what are the things that divide us?”