One of the candidates vying to be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is hoping to gain new supporters in the North.
Patrick Brown, one of six hopefuls in the Conservative leadership race, visited residents in Whitehorse and Yellowknife over the weekend to encourage them to register as party members ahead of the September 10 vote.
His countrywide campaign has focused on attracting new Canadians and ethnic minorities, with promises of a more inclusive Conservative party.
“I want to go to every corner of the country to build a much larger, multi-faith, multicultural Conservative party,” Brown told Cabin Radio.
While in Yellowknife on Sunday, Brown met with members of the city’s Muslim community and Chinese association at the Javaroma café before heading to Mainstreet Pizza.
Brown, while saying he agrees with the stance of other Conservative politicians on issues like pipelines, tried to differentiate himself as a champion of religious freedom. During a speech to the small crowd, he espoused foreign credential recognition and pledged to expand Canada’s immigration system to address worker shortages and “unlock the economic potential of Canada.”
Some residents voiced skepticism that Brown would be able to change a party they feel has excluded minorities by embracing xenophobic policies.
In response, Brown said: “The answer is leadership.”
“It takes a leader not to buy into the dark side of the internet … Good leaders challenge it.”
Third leader in five years
The Northwest Territories has historically been a challenging riding for the Conservative Party to win. The territory hasn’t had a Conservative MP since 1988, when the region made up the Western Arctic riding alongside parts of what is now Nunavut.
Yet Brown, who has been the mayor of Brampton, Ontario since 2018, said he’s confident he can “break through” to areas that are not traditionally conservative.
If elected as party leader, he said he plans to visit the North regularly and fight for its needs in Parliament.
“Canada needs to have a presence in northern Canada. I think that you have some of the greatest resources in the world in northern Canada,” he said. “I want to make sure that the tools and infrastructure, the federal government are available to make sure we always protect our northern sovereignty.”
This is the third time in five years that Conservatives have had to choose a new leader. Andrew Scheer held the position from 2017 until he stepped down in 2020, followed by Erin O’Toole, who was ousted as party leader in February.
Polls currently suggest Pierre Poilievre, MP for Ontario’s Carleton riding, is the frontrunner, trailed by former Quebec premier Jean Charest. Potential voters have indicated they’re most familiar with Poilievre and Charest compared to other candidates.
While Poilievre is staunchly right-wing, Charest and Brown have positioned themselves as Conservatives with more centrist social values. During a French-language debate earlier this month, CBC reported Brown and Charest teamed up against Poilievre, accusing him of being an extremist who has embraced racists. Poilievre, meanwhile, accused his two opponents of being corrupt. Maclean’s referred to the debate as a “three-way brawl,” with the three other candidates saying little.
Brown repeated barbs against Poilievre during his time in Yellowknife.
Other candidates include Leslyn Lewis, a social conservative and MP for Haldimand-Norfolk since 2021 – who placed third in the last Conservative leadership race – and Roman Baber, a Conservative member of Ontario’s parliament from 2018 to 2022, who gained attention for being kicked out of the provincial party for his stance against Covid-19 lockdowns. Finally, Scott Aitchison, MP of Parry Sound-Muskoka since 2019 and shadow minister for labour, has pledged to end supply management.