Harper urges Conservatives to stay united in first major speech since election
Former prime minister Stephen Harper told thousands of party faithful gathered in Vancouver Thursday night that Canada will need "a strong, united Conservative Party that’s ready to govern" in 2019.
Harper spent much his speech at the Conservative convention thanking people, including "the love of my life, Laureen," party activists and interim leader Rona Ambrose, whom he called “one of the most effective opposition leaders this country has ever seen."
Harper listed off what he sees as his achievements: tax cuts, spending on infrastructure and the military, a balanced budget, “tough on crime” measures, expanded free trade and “the decline of Quebec separation and western alienation.”
Speaking in French, he singled the party’s growth in Quebec as one of his proudest achievements. The Conservatives had no seats in Quebec after the 2004 election, but won a dozen in 2015.
“Ours will continue to be the party of those who work hard, who play by the rules, and who are struggling to raise a family in an uncertain world,” he added. “Ours is the party that knows hard-earned dollars are better spent by families than by governments.”
It is unclear what Harper plans to do next. CTV News reported Wednesday that Harper has set up his own corporation as he looks to his future post-politics. Sources say Harper wants to pursue his international interests, including maternal, newborn and child health, and democracy.
On Friday, the convention will turn to fundraising and campaign tactics, with sessions about the Conservative Fund and how to recruit volunteers, as well as a 2015 campaign review.
Ambrose told CTV Senior Parliamentary Correspondent McGregor that the Tories “communicated our message wrong” during the fall election.
“Some of the things we focused on were niche issues that I don't think we needed to,” she said. “What went right was our basic policies and values that have always resonated with millions of Canadians when we talk about lower taxes, support for families.”
On Saturday, the party will select the new members of its national council, the Conservatives' governing body, and debate the party constitution and policies. That discussion could feature debates on how leaders are selected and on whether the Conservatives should update their position against same-sex marriage, but the motions that hit the plenary floor will depend on what delegates decide in closed-door workshops on Friday.
Delegates will likely be watching to see which possible leadership contenders are there to canvas support and assess their chances. MPs Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Kellie Leitch have officially joined the race. Other potential candidates include bigger name Conservatives such as former cabinet ministers Tony Clement, Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay and Lisa Raitt. Kevin O’Leary, the chair of O'Leary Financial Group and a Bell Media on-air contributor, has also said he may be interested in the party’s top role.
CTV News correspondents are live-tweeting from the convention. Follow along below in our live blog: