Candidates running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada made their pitch to party faithful at an event for the provincial party in Halifax on Saturday.
Former cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Erin O'Toole — widely seen as the two front runners in the race — positioned themselves as the most capable of beating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an election and attacked him for what they say is his lack of substance and opposition to natural resource development.
Lesser-known candidates Marilyn Gladu, Rudy Husny and Rick Peterson each spent substantial portions of their speeches introducing themselves in addition to presenting substantive policy ideas.
The five leadership hopefuls spoke to the hundreds gathered at the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia's annual general meeting, in what was their first opportunity for the candidates to appear beside each other since the 2020 leadership campaign began last month.
Peter MacKay addresses regional issues
MacKay, who is from Nova Scotia, peppered his 15 minutes with myriad references to the province's history, promising a Conservative government far more respectful of the federation than the current Liberals.
The former defence and justice minister attacked Trudeau's record on the environment, which he said failed to produce results while at the same time is crippling key natural resource industries.
"This Liberal government is so blinded by ideological opposition to natural resource development it is crushing our economy," he said. "And while our country flounders, the prime minister pursues his vanity project at the United Nations."
Watch: Conservative leadership hopefuls speak in Halifax
MacKay promised to bring jobs to the region by supporting big projects similar to the now-cancelled Energy East pipeline that would have transported crude oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to the east coast for refining and export.
He repeated a familiar Conservative argument stating that Canada must take a global view when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that exporting liquefied natural gas could help reduce emissions in the face of ongoing demand for fossil fuels.
"Even the United Nations has said we're going to be using fossil fuels for 40 years to come," he said. "We could throw all our car keys in Halifax Harbour, turn down the heat, turn off the lights, walk around naked in the dark eating organic beets and it won't make a difference."
Erin O'Toole calls himself 'true blue'
Erin O'Toole, a former veteran affairs minister and current MP, also took aim at Trudeau.
"Unlike the Trudeau government, who constantly seems to be fighting for attention from magazine covers and global celebrities, Canadians want a government that gives them the chance to succeed and keeps our great country united," said O'Toole, who also has ties to Nova Scotia from his university days and time with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He attempted to position himself as the "true blue" conservative candidate, a not-too-subtle dig at his opponents who support progressive ideas.
"Either you believe that we move backward by shifting to the left, or you believe, like I do, that we win by moving forward by uniting all conservatives on the right," said O'Toole.
MacKay and O'Toole are so far the only official candidates in the race, having met the first round of requirements to enter — $25,000 and 1,000 signatures that include people in 30 ridings across seven provinces and territories.
The other three campaigns say they have the money required to pass the first hurdle, but are still collecting the signatures.
Altogether, candidates must pay a non-refundable $200,000 fee, a refundable $100,000 compliance deposit and submit 3,000 signatures.
Saturday's event was open to all prospective candidates, so long as they paid a $1,000 fee to the Nova Scotia PC Party for costs.
Gladu and Peterson both appealed for signatures to help them meet the party's requirements top become official candidates.
Marilyn Gladu touts engineering background
In her speech, Gladu, the current Conservative MP for Sarnia-Lambton, touted her experience in the private sector and noted she was the first female engineer to be elected as an MP.
She worked as a chemical engineer for 10 years with Dow Chemical in Quebec and for another five years with Worley Parsons, an engineering company in the natural resources sector.
"When it comes to leading a huge and diverse team, I think that's an experience I've had," said Gladu.
Gladu said she would support building infrastructure for rural hospitals and coming up with innovative ideas on how to get more doctors, nurses and personal support workers into rural communities as Canada's population ages.
She said she will put forward a viable climate plan that would help Canada meet its 2030 Paris Accord targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time get pipelines built to both coasts.
Rick Peterson running for second time
Peterson, a businessman from Alberta, began his speech by praising the others running for the leadership and appeared to partially endorse MacKay. He suggested he will make MacKay his second choice on the ranked ballot the party uses, and he hopes others do the same.
Peterson is running for the second time, after having placed 12th out of 14 in the 2017 race.
The signature policy pledge of his campaign is reducing the corporate tax rate to zero and instituting a flat 15 per cent personal tax rate for individuals.
"This is a plan that will supercharge the economy," Peterson said.
Peterson said he would also introduce a carbon-pricing scheme targeting the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, similar to what the province of Alberta has implemented under Premier Jason Kenney.
Finally, Peterson said he would roll back new gun laws implemented by the Trudeau government last year.
Rudy Husny wants 'generational change'
For Husny, the event was an opportunity for him to come out of the backroom and onto the big stage.
He's a longtime Quebec Conservative organizer and staffer, but said the old ways of the party need to be jettisoned.
"Our economic message is great . . . but it's not all about cutting," he said. "It's about smart spending, it's about investment, that's the message we have to tell Canadians."
One of his ideas is a move to e-government. Husny lamented the process for obtaining passports and benefits from the government, and said he would move much of that online.
Husny also said he would be a pro-energy voice in Quebec and would champion the country's resource sector.
Prospective candidates have until the end of February to register in the leadership race, and party members will elect the new leader on June 27.
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