Canada needs a Conservative renaissance at the national level, former prime minister Stephen Harper told attendees at Canada’s largest conservative conference on Wednesday, as he touted the impact of the Reform Party.
He was speaking to hundreds of attendees at the Canada Strong and Free Networking conference, formerly dubbed the Manning Centre.
“Our country is badly in need of a Conservative renaissance at the national level,” he told the crowd.
The Tories have lost the last three elections to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, including the 2015 election lost by Harper. The party has been led by different leaders in all three elections, with both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole leaving the top job shortly after failing to form government.
Harper said the modern Conservative party was built from populism in Western Canada, a sense of nationalism in Quebec, and Ontario Tories. Liberal media is imprecise and often negative when referring to populism, blaming any election they don’t like on it, he said.
But its original intention is to represent the broad interests of “the great mass of local people,” he said.
“Those people were overwhelmingly smallholder farmers and modest income laborers. They contrasted with the elites of the time.”
The former PM credited Preston Manning with taking populism policy from Alberta and creating a largely mainstream Conservative Party.
“It was one that right to the very end kept its roots among farming class, working class, and middle class people,” he said.
Harper said democracies rarely get things exactly right, at any point in time, but they are adaptable and resilient.
“And over time, when it becomes obvious that countries are on the wrong path, democracies have a way of correcting errors, changing course and revitalizing themselves,” he said.
“It’s happened again, this kind of rebirth of vital revitalization has happened again and again, over the generations.”
Harper, who endorsed Pierre Poilievre during the Conservative leadership race last year, marking his first endorsement since leaving politics in 2015, referred to the Tory leader as “a very tiny reformer” at one point in his speech.
But, he said if Poilievre forms government, he will be leading under much tougher circumstances than Harper did. For now, he said the new leader must stick to holding Trudeau to account and delay informing the electorate of his own plans to run the country.
“That’s the job.”