Former prime minister Stephen Harper says Canada is “badly” in need of a “Conservative renaissance” as the movement’s grassroots gather in Ottawa.
In a rare public speech, Harper reminisced about the early days of the Reform Party and suggested a similarly insurgent movement is required in Canadian politics today.
And he cast Pierre Poilievre, the current Conservative leader, as the inheritor of the Reform Party’s legacy.
“Our country is badly in need of a Conservative renaissance at the national level,” Harper told a crowd at the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa.
“But such a renaissance cannot occur, cannot be accomplished, achieved or maintained by a political party or movement alone. It needs organized support in the broader society.”
Harper was speaking at the Canada Strong and Free Network Conference – an annual Ottawa gathering of conservative activists, operatives and politicians, which was formerly known as the Manning Centre Conference.
The former prime minister has focused more attention on foreign affairs and his business than domestic politics since his party’s loss in the 2015 federal election, which saw Justin Trudeau form a majority government.
Harper’s speech came at a pivotal time for the Conservative Party that he built – with Pierre Poilievre, Harper’s former parliamentary secretary, remaking the party in his image and with his people.
Plenty of folks in the Conservative orbit are bullish on their chances to take out Trudeau’s Liberals – now in their eighth year of power – in the next general election, whenever that comes.
Comparing the current geopolitical climate to the 1970s, Harper cast Poilievre – who is scheduled to speak to the conference on Thursday – in a line of Reformers that grew out of the political tumult of that decade.
But the occasion for Harper’s speech – the 30th anniversary of the 1993 election that saw 52 Reform Party MPs elected to Parliament for the first time – might temper optimism among the right-wing set.
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While Preston Manning’s Reform saw a breakthrough in 1993, and the Progressive Conservatives experienced a historic rout they never recovered from politically, a conservative party has held power just nine out of those 30 years.
The conservative movement came to Ottawa at a time when the party appears to be leading in public polling, but with no general election imminent. Trudeau’s deal with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh – struck to support the Liberals minority government in exchange for progress on New Democratic priorities – appears stronger today than it was a year ago when it was inked.
A senior Conservative source who spoke to Global News, who agreed to speak frankly on the condition they not be named, said they don’t see a federal election happening soon unless Trudeau decides it’s to his advantage.
But for the Liberals, there is a danger in giving Poilievre and the Conservatives too much time to get their house – and their election machine – in order.
The Canada Strong and Free conference continues Thursday, with a keynote address from Poilievre scheduled for the evening.