OTTAWA — The Conservative party's campaign chair laid out some of the ground Friday the party hopes to cover to regain power in the 2019 election.
Central to the strategy, said Hamish Marshall, will be so-called "pink-collar labourers" — people who work in traditional female jobs — as well as regaining the support from new Canadians the party ceded to the Liberals in the last campaign.
"We have to do a lot more work on the brand," Marshall told a small crowd of conservatives at the annual Manning Networking Conference, for years a pre-eminent venue for Canada's right to hash out policy and ideas.
Female conservatives want action on #MeToo
But while in previous years conservatives have packed the main ballroom of a downtown Ottawa convention centre, rows of empty seats greeted Friday's first panellists.
Even Caroline Mulroney, daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and a rising star in the party, drew only tepid applause as she took the stage for an interview on her bid to lead the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
That campaign, of course, was launched in the wake of a scandal rocking the conservative establishment — allegations of sexual misconduct being levelled at Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown and his party president, Rick Dykstra.
Both have resigned but deny the allegations, which have not been proven in court nor tested by The Canadian Press.
Several female conservatives said Friday the so-called #MeToo movement must be addressed as part of the party's efforts to broaden its appeal to women.
But the claim of the governing Liberals to being the only feminist party must also be challenged, MP Rachael Harder said during a panel on conservatism and feminism.
The Alberta MP was blocked from being the head of the Commons status of women committee last year by the Liberals and the NDP, who argued that her pro-life views made her an unsuitable candidate.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave his MPs that talking point, Harder said.
"When the prime minister gives that direction that 'Rachael is an inappropriate choice,' then the feminist prime minister of Canada just stated that he gets to dictate what a right kind of woman is, and what a wrong kind of woman is," she said.
"He will tell you whether or not you are an acceptable woman in this country. That is not feminism."