“Terrace, like the rest of Canada is at a crossroads,” said federal Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole during a Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce virtual event on Tuesday (April 6).
O’Toole kicked off the Zoom conference held at noon by outlining his priorities for Canada and then answered questions on a variety of topics.
During the event, O’Toole described the COVID-19 vaccine roll out as “a failure of leadership” on the part of the federal government, discussed efforts to grow Conservative support and pledged to avoid an “Ottawa knows best” attitude should his party win the next federal election.
Below are selected answers to questions asked by Thomas Keller, Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce president. The entire event is available to view on the Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.
On the evolution of the Conservative Party
In response to a question about how the Conservative Party has, and will continue to evolve under his leadership, O’Toole said that the party is in the process of expanding its base of support.
“I want more Canadians, Indigenous Canadians, more women, cultural communities, more young people, seeing our plan and our policies as a way to make sure Canada leads the economic recovery post-COVID-19,” he said.
“I want more Canadians feeling welcome in our movement as we secure a brighter future.”
Regarding social justice issues, O’Toole said that there is no place for any racism or intolerance in his party.
On infrastructure needs in Terrace
O’Toole referenced the City of Terrace’s invitation to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to come to Terrace and examine the city’s infrastructure needs, saying the Conservative Party is the only party at the federal level that wants to see large projects completed.
“I know you’ve had challenges with unsafe road access to the Bench area, and are in need of additional overpasses because of the increase in rail traffic,” he said.
“You deserve a federal partner who understands this and will work with you to meet those growth demands that are in your local interest and in our national interest.”
Should he win the next election, O’Toole said that he would like to visit Terrace for the first time and see things from the perspective of the city’s residents.
On encouraging investment in Canada
O’Toole took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while responding to a question about the investment environment in Canada, saying that the country needs predictability when it comes to the start and completion of projects.
“What we saw with Mr. Trudeau, ideologically canceling projects that had been through years of approval, bringing in a bill like Bill C 69, which nine out of 10 premiers opposed, so it had an undemocratic undertone to it,” he said.
He also said that Canada should be taking a leadership role to re-balance global trade, which involves working with allies to address human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang province and Hong Kong, align on policies regarding Huawei, and to stop “some of the bad actors to reap the benefits of a rules-based global trade system without the responsibility.”
On rail safety
Describing himself as what would be a “roll-up-the-sleeves, hands-on prime minister,” O’Toole said that should he hold office he would work to learn what has gone wrong in the past and how to address concerns in the future. By recognizing LNG Canada and others as projects in the national interest, O’Toole said that the federal government can build the capacity to ensure that risks are mitigated and the highest safety and environmental standards are upheld.
On environmental issues
O’Toole said that his party is in the process of finishing its “substantive and serious” climate change plan. He said that as a conservative and the father of two children, the environment is an important issue. While not sharing details, O’Toole said that the plan would aim to reduce emissions on a timeline, and avoid overburdening small businesses.
On the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
On the topic of UNDRIP, O’Toole emphasized that all Canadians want reconciliation to be at the centre of what the federal government does. He talked about free, prior informed consent as one area that still needs to be clarified and resolved.
“Is that a veto standard, or is it an enhancement to the Supreme Court’s duty to consult, and this is important, and I’ve spoken to many Indigenous leaders on this, there is a split on what that exactly means,” he said, adding that the Conservative Party is in the process of consulting with Indigenous communities about how to strike a balance.
On homelessness, addiction and mental health
Terrace councillor Sean Bujtas brought up issues surrounding homelessness, addiction and mental health in Terrace, and asked what the federal government can do to find solutions. O’Toole said while people profiting from illicit drugs should receive “swift justice,” the criminal justice route is not the solution for people experiencing addiction and homelessness.
“We need compassion there,” he said.
“I think we’ve always tried to show compassion. But we’ve got to do it better. We’ve got to do harm reduction, but not just leave it at that. How can there be ways to help people heal? How can we engage Indigenous knowledge and and tradition in the process? How can we build partnerships?”
O’Toole said that as Prime Minster he would partner with provinces and local service agencies.
“Ottawa needs to know that leadership sometimes means partnering or following, you don’t need to have an Ottawa-based solution for everything.”