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As Centre Ice group drops 'Conservative' from name, where are moderate Tories to go?

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OTTAWA -

An advocacy group started by centrist Conservatives to provide more of a voice to the political middle has dropped the party's name to expand its base.

The "Centre Ice Conservatives" have become the "Centre Ice Canadians." What does that say about the state of the federal party and the role of moderate Tories within it?

According to Rick Peterson, one of the group's co-founders, the move shouldn't be taken as a sign of any major shift.

He says the decision simply reflects how the group heard from supporters who wanted to get involved without appearing to be members of the federal Conservative Party.

Peterson, an Edmonton-based businessman who ran as a candidate in the party's 2017 leadership race, says the current contest -- in which many are expecting longtime Conservative Pierre Poilievre to take the victory -- had a "minimal" affect on its decision.

"I don't think it's so much a reflection of any formal party. It's just that the reason we started Centre Ice Conservatives is we didn't think any of the parties were adequately addressing issues in the centre," he says. "And we've been right."

He added: "This is not an anti-Pierre Poilievre movement."

Still, with less than two weeks left in the race before the next leader is chosen, questions linger about what unity looks like and how different parts of the Conservative coalition, including the party's moderates, will react to a Poilievre win.

While Poilievre has campaigned on economic messages of battling inflation and high housing prices, he has also defended participants of last winter's "Freedom Convoy" in Ottawa and promised to ban future ministers from attending the World Economic Forum -- a global organization that has been the subject of rampant conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such moves have caused some to worry about the party's direction.

Longtime Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis says Poilievre's political record is that of a centrist or centre-right Conservative. That is reflected in campaign promises like vowing to expand the runway at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to allow larger jets, she said.

What's happening, Paradis suggests, is that Poilievre is reflecting the country's anger.

"The tone in the country has shifted," she says. "And he's speaking to it, which isn't the same thing as being far-right."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

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