VANCOUVER — The Conservatives turned a critical lens on themselves Friday in a review of what went wrong during the 2015 election that included a Muslim member of their party breaking down in tears as she characterized their efforts as a disaster.
Urz Heer, a turquoise scarf covering her hair, chastised her fellow Conservatives and party leadership, saying the campaign unfairly targeted her community.
"This party worked actively and aggressively against my people," she said, to cries of "not so" from the crowd.
"It did, it did," she said. "It didn't differentiate who Muslims were versus the enemy."
The election drove many Muslims who had never voted before to aggressively vote against the Tories, said Heer, who is from the Toronto-area riding of Brampton South.
Conservative Senator Salma Ataullahjan comforts delegate Uruzurum Heer during a policy meeting at the Conservative Party of Canada convention in Vancouver, May 27, 2016. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)
"For the first time I felt like I didn't belong here and this was my country," she said, her voice breaking.
Her passionate statement was greeted with applause and she received hugs from some in the crowd but it left party executive director Dustin Van Vugt stumbling for words.
He noted the party lost nearly all its seats in the Greater Toronto Area but did pick up one with South Asian MP Bob Saroya.
He said the party needs to expand its outreach.
"Is there one answer I can give today? There's no answer I can give today other than we know we have to win and to win we need a very large tent that includes everybody."
"For the first time I felt like I didn't belong here and this was my country."
Two issues — a ban on wearing face veils during citizenship ceremonies and a proposal for a tip line on "barbaric cultural practices" — were controversial policies put forward by the Tories during the campaign.
Former campaign manager Jenni Byrne — who sat through the entire campaign review session as delegate after delegate criticized strategies she would have helped craft — wouldn't explicitly address the choice to hammer those two issues so hard and often during the 11 week campaign.
She said the niqab came up because of a court decision during the election that overturned the Tories' policy banning them.
She said the Tories couldn't have predicted the NDP vote would collapse during the campaign, which was a major factor that reduced to the Tories to opposition status.
But one of the reasons it did was the niqab — the ban was popular in Quebec and NDP leader Tom Mulcair's decision to come out against it was widely seen as costing that party votes and allowing the Liberals to surge.
"It's always good to get feedback from the field in terms of what worked and what didn't work," Byrne said as she left the convention.
Party conducted review of election loss
The Tories did an exhaustive national review after last fall's election, with Van Vugt and longtime MP Diane Finley criss-crossing the country and holding online sessions.
Van Vugt said the loss could be chalked up to big and little misses, everything from stale advertising to a decision not to allow candidates to do any public debates or give local media interviews.
He said the strategy deployed in 2015 was largely the same one used in the previous election campaigns because it had worked for them in those elections.
"We just kept doing things because we'd done them before. Was it the right reason? Was that the reason we won?," he said in a response to a question about why there was so much negative advertising.
"I don't know because we didn't actually figure it out."
"I have heard no one suggest that we lost the election because we did not spend enough money."
The Conservative party spent $42 million on the campaign, $12 million less than the $54 million cap allowed by Elections Canada.
"I have heard no one suggest that we lost the election because we did not spend enough money," Conservative Fund chairman Irving Gerstein told delegates earlier Friday.
The party went into the campaign with $15 million in the bank, the result of saving three years of the per-vote subsidies that the Tories eliminated while in power.
They topped that up with a $28 million loan to finance the historic 11-week campaign but that debt has now been paid off using a combination of tax and Elections Canada rebates and party fundraising, Gerstein said.