Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve faced systemic racism and build relationships with newcomer communities before asking for their votes if they want to grow the movement, party supporters heard Saturday.

Panellists discussed the issue on Saturday during a conference hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network, formerly the Manning Centre.

The think tank’s annual convention — moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was billed as the largest networking event for both small-c and big-C conservatives to discuss current issues.

Among them was how to expand the scope of the Conservative movement — something party Leader Erin O’Toole, also a scheduled speaker on Saturday, has pledged to do.

Lilly Obina, a black woman who campaigned for different Conservative candidates and ran for a nomination in 2015, said one reason the party doesn’t resonate with the black community is its messaging around cuts, which needs to be better explained.

The senior project executive withImmigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada told a panel that economics are important to the black community, who she said can feel targeted when the party talks about reducing the size of government.

“We need to be able to empathize with what goes (on) in the black community,” she said.

“For example, when they say we are experiencing systemic racism, let’s recognize that, let’s be empathetic. You might not have solutions to everything, but at least just acknowledge that the problem exists.”

Tenzin Khangdsar, who did cultural outreach for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney when he served as Immigration Minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, said the party has had previous success with reaching newcomers despite the present-day challenges.

The former candidate pointed to how a large number of their votes were captured under former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Harper, the latter who was aided by Kenney’s efforts to build relationships with immigrant communities.

“He was dubbed the minister of curry in a hurry for a reason,” said Khangdsar, citing how he would attend upward of 15 community events in a weekend.

“No one likes when it you’re approached just during an election, that’s very transactional.”

He suggested that for new immigrants and ethnic-Canadians, forging personal relationships is an important way to sway a vote, even more so than with non-ethnic residents.

“Our playbook was very simple: We were very confident that most new Canadians were small-c conservatives. We just had to make them big-C Conservatives,” Khangdsar said.

“And I would even add that applies to most Canadians.”

Harper was among those who appeared at Saturday’s conference in a pre-taped panel discussion with former British prime minister David Cameron.

Moderated by Senator Linda From, the centre’s president said their talk couldn’t be publicized beyond the conference because of a contract with the former leaders.

Organizers said at least 500 people were registered to attend the event. It’s theme was how to “build back right,” rather than “build back better.”

The latter is how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has described his Liberal government’s plan to heal the Canadian economy from the toll taken by the novel coronavirus.

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