Erin O'Toole promised Wednesday that a united Conservative team will offer Canadians a pandemic recovery plan that will rebuild the economy and give people fresh hope.
Holding his first caucus meeting in Ottawa since winning the party's leadership, O'Toole said he will lead a party that is compassionate, intelligent and committed to better reflecting Canada's population.
"Through respect, professionalism and the pursuit of excellence, we will show all Canadians that we are a government in waiting," he said. "Together we will form an engaged, ethical and compassionate Conservative government."
O'Toole said the party's new mission statement will be, 'Through adversity, to the stars,' drawing on the Latin phrase, Per ardua ad astra. The phrase served as the Royal Canadian Air Force motto until 1968.
He said the Liberals hoped there would be lingering grudges after a lengthy leadership race, but that's not the case.
"We are stronger and more united than ever before," he said.
WATCH / Erin O'Toole gives first address to Conservative caucus
O'Toole said that after four years of Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadians are more divided, less prosperous and less respected on the world stage.
On his way into the caucus meeting, Ontario Conservative MP Michael Barrett said O'Toole is presenting a "bit of a different tone and vision" and the party will put forward a plan that gets the country back on track.
"This leadership race has dragged on longer than expected and so now we're coming in to the COVID-19 recovery phase. It's all about putting Canadians first," he said.
Alberta Conservative MP Tim Uppal said there is much excitement in the caucus.
Caucus focus on helping Canadians, defeating Trudeau
"Our caucus is completely focused on helping Canadians first of all, but also defeating Justin Trudeau and giving Canadians the government they deserve," he said.
WATCH / Prime Minister Trudeau says he doesn't want a snap election:
Parliament will reopen on Sept. 23 with a speech from the throne.
Trudeau has said the pandemic completely upended the government's agenda and a throne speech is the best way to reset with the support of other political parties.
There will be a confidence vote on the throne speech that could trigger a fall election. Trudeau has said he has no interest in a snap campaign but the government needs a fresh mandate, given the turn of global events.
"It is the responsible thing to do in a democracy, particularly in a minority Parliament situation, to put that plan forward to ensure that it has the confidence of the House as we move forward," he said during an event in Toronto to announce supports for Black entrepreneurs.
"So it will be up to opposition parties to decide whether or not they have confidence in the plan this government's going to put forward to help Canadians and to build a better future. We're going to stay focused on helping Canadians. I hope the other parties will do the same."
Getting back to work
Many Conservative MPs were asked about the caucus gathering en masse while public health restrictions are still in place. They said they were confident about the precautions taken, such as physical distancing and masks, and were happy to be meeting in person.
"Children are going back to school. We need to take all the precautions we can. You can never be 100 per cent, but I think we can be smart and we need to get going again," said Ontario Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu.
A Conservative spokesperson said the main room held 89 people and there was an overflow room as well. About a dozen others joined virtually from home.
After the meeting, O'Toole said several emergency benefits will be winding down soon and many Canadians are nervous about the next stage.
"There are millions of Canadians who want a plan, Mr. Trudeau, not more hashtags or 'build better' slogans," he said. "Let's see the plan and if it's for the betterment of the country, we'll support parts of that plan. If we don't see it, we'll put forward our own vision."
In his opening remarks to MPs, O'Toole also addressed the controversy surrounding the destruction of monuments — such as the recent toppling of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Montreal by activists in the aftermath of a protest calling for the defunding of police.
A handful of people climbed the monument, tied ropes around the statue and held up banners before unbolting it and pulling it down. The falling statue's trajectory caused the head to fly off and bounce onto the cobblestones below.
O'Toole said we must learn from the controversial figures of Canada's past and not attempt to erase their stories.
"Cancel culture dooms us to forget the lessons from these stories," he said. "It also ignores the incredible progress and resilience of Canada."
Labour Day message promised 'Canada First' strategy
In a Labour Day message posted to social media on Monday, O'Toole promised a "Canada First" economic strategy which puts the wellness of families and higher wages, rather than GDP growth, at its core.
The populist message was reflected in O'Toole's remarks to caucus today. He also insisted again that the party will welcome people from diverse backgrounds, including new Canadians, union members and members of the LGBT community.
O'Toole took a step in that direction Tuesday when he released the list of MPs who will serve as critics for the next session of Parliament, taking care to place visible minority, LGBT and female MPs on the front benches.
WATCH | Erin O'Toole speaks to reports after caucus meeting