Conservatives need to rally behind their leader, former cabinet minister Peter MacKay said Friday in a keynote speech at the party’s policy convention in Quebec City.
In a speech designed to demonstrate party unity after years of infighting MacKay said Conservatives need to back the ideas of Leader Pierre Poilievre and speak with a unified voice.
“If you remember nothing else that I’ve said here today, in order to build a united Canada, we must remain united as a Conservative party,” MacKay told the crowd.
“I’m particularly filled with optimism today because under Pierre Poilievre’s leadership our party will have the unity as I mentioned, that’s necessary to gain the confidence of Canadians in every region of the country.”
Unity has been a tricky goal for successive Conservative leaders not only within caucus, but among the wider party base. But so far Poilievre’s ability to manage his own party and MPs and the popularity he has continued to enjoy instils a confidence that many have not experienced in years.
The mood at the convention is buoyant, following a number of polls that show the party with a considerable lead over the governing Liberals. While no election is imminent, the numbers are lifting the spirits of party members clamouring for a return to power after being shut out for nearly eight years.
The convention comes almost exactly one year since Poilievre romped to a big first-ballot victory in the leadership race. It was the most decisive victory for a Conservative leader since Stephen Harper in 2004.
MacKay’s appearance was meant as a show some of that unity, or at the very least was viewed as a kind of homecoming.
Billed by the party as one of its co-founders, referencing his role in the merger of the former Progressive Conservative party, which he led, with the Canadian Alliance, he represents a more moderate wing of the party.
That faction was the one Poilievre’s critics warned could flee the party after his win or worse, stay home on election day.
MacKay’s presence is meant to show otherwise. The former minister skipped its virtual policy convention in 2021 following his defeat in the 2020 leadership race, which was seen a humiliating blow after having entered the race as its decisive front-runner.
His appearance at the convention this time, where more than 2,500 party supporters are gathered until Saturday, also set off rumours about him re-entering politics, which he nodded to in his speech.
At one point, he told the crowd he had been thinking about his future and “figured there’s no better place than here with all of you, to let you in on a little secret.”
“I believe Pierre Poilievre will be the next prime minister of Canada.”
If unity is one ingredient to the “blue wave” Conservatives hope to see, the other is money.
And while Poilievre says many Canadians are struggling to make ends meet under a high cost of living, his party is certainly not.
Since he became leader last September, the party’s fundraising numbers have soared, allowing it to generate surpluses which the Conservatives are spending to help get Canadians to warm to the idea of Poilievre as their next prime minister.
More than $3 million has gone toward an advertising campaign launched in early August that features his wife, Anaida, introducing him as a father and a husband, as well as Poilievre himself appearing with his son, talking about his desire to fix the country’s woes.
Poilievre also spent the summer touring the country, talking up his party as the option for Canadians who want hope and relief from soaring housing prices and a high cost of living. Those are issues that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have so far struggled to convince the country they can fix.
“We will continue to spend on tour and we will continue to spend on advertising,” said Robert Staley, the Toronto lawyer named by Poilievre to lead the Conservative Fund, in presentation earlier Friday.
“All of this is being done to influence voters, especially in key ridings to support the party and our leader in the next election.”
Staley went on to say that the “tour is not directed at bringing out the faithful,”
“With our leader’s tour we are trying to reach new voters with Pierre’s common sense messages and it costs more to do it well, and we are doing it well,” he said.
“That means doing more to advertise events and try to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have supported the party.”
For Conservatives, that includes young people, blue-collar workers and newcomers, particularly in and around the country’s biggest cities.
Poilievre will address the convention in a highly anticipated speech Friday, his first as party leader.