Supporters, as well as the undecided, gathered at Canvas Brewing Company in Huntsville on Sunday afternoon to listen to Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison’s vision for Canada if he becomes leader of the Conservative Party.
Aitchison made his intention to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party official a few days prior to the formal Huntsville gathering, which brought out more than 100 people.
Former Huntsville and District Councillor Fran Coleman who served with Aitchison on municipal council was the master of ceremonies for the event. She described Aitchison as a loyal Canadian who has dedicated his life to public service.
“He is a consensus-builder who will lead and make Canada a better place,” said Coleman who also lauded Aitchison for his skills as an orator, speaking skills she quipped she has always envied.
Coleman also introduced Conservative MP for Kenora, Eric Melillo, the youngest sitting Member of Parliament. Melillo said he is incredibly proud to support Aitchison, who he considers a friend, in his bid to lead the party.
Melillo is concerned with a crippling federal debt “that is threatening the sustainability of our government services and social programs for future generations. I’m concerned with the war in Ukraine that is threatening democracies around the world, and I’m concerned with the hyper-partisan political rhetoric that is gridlocking our politics here at home,” he said. “It’s evident that we need a serious leader. We need someone who can step up to face these challenges head-on, unite our party and guide our team to victory whenever the next election comes… I know that Scott has the poise and the determination to be that leader and get the job done.”
Aitchison thanked those who took the time to attend the gathering, and said he’s never forgotten the honour of representing his hometown and the people who make it an incredible place to live. “I’ve never forgotten the values that I learned here and I continue to fight for them in Parliament today.”
He said the country is facing serious problems and the right approach is required to solve them. “Our economy no longer works for the people who power it; there are countless families who can barely get by despite putting in a hard day’s work. The next generation is uncertain about the world they will inherit – climate change, a housing crisis, a failing health care system… solving the challenges of our time requires more than politics as usual. More partisan bickering is simply not the answer. Solving problems requires real leadership. I’ve been in Parliament now two terms and I am dismayed by the energy wasted on political games, instead of getting things done. What’s missing in Ottawa is leadership.
“Right here in Huntsville is where I learned what real leadership is. I learned to inspire the team around me. I learned to inspire a community and empower citizens with an open and transparent government. This is the place that taught me the importance of dialogue, of respectful debate, and the remarkable possibilities that could come from listening to those we might disagree with. Today, Canada needs the kind of inclusive, engaged and compassionate leadership that I learned right here,” he told those present to applause, cheers, and people holding up multi-coloured signs with Scott written on them.
Aitchison said it was humbling to be surrounded by so many neighbours and people who have taught, mentored, and supported him through the years.
“But of course today many are meeting me for the very first time. I’m sure many Canadians might be wondering about the audacity of some dude of rural Northern Ontario thinking he has any business running to be leader of anything,” said Aitchison who talked about his journey.
Aitchison told those present he was born and raised in the town of Huntsville. “I was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness faith but at the age of 15 I saw a different path and left home to find the faith that guides me to this very day. I didn’t really have much of a plan at the time. I just knew I had to make the move and of course in typical Canadian fashion neighbours took me in, gave me a hand up, and made me part of their family.”
At the age of 21 he was elected to Huntsville Council. “I believed then as I do now that public office should be about rolling up your sleeves and solving problems,” he said. “Here’s the thing about municipal politics: It’s close to the people and it is about building consensus to get things done. It’s about putting words into action. We work on a common goal and relentlessly focus on breaking down barriers to find solutions. That is the right approach and it is missing in Ottawa.”
He said many Canadians are wondering why places like Europe are “relying on a tyrant like Vladimir Putin for their energy needs while their own government makes it more difficult every single year to get ethically produced Canadian energy to market.”
He blamed the Liberals for making billion-dollar announcements to address the housing crisis “and yet today there are more Canadians than ever who are desperate for a secure, safe bed to sleep in at night, and there are many more Canadians who’ve simply given up on the dream of homeownership.”
Aitchison said as mayor of Huntsville “our council worked with developers to get homes built. This is the kind of leadership we need across Canada.”
Aitchison spoke of taking Canada’s national security and international commitments seriously and ensuring Canada’s armed forces are capable and ready “and have the tools required to protect those who serve us and to defend our commitment to freedom and democracy around the world…”
He said Canada’s healthcare system has been neglected for far too long and the challenge of fixing it will not be easy “but the status quo is a recipe for more Canadians needlessly suffering and we Conservatives must be the ones who finally make the federal government the full partner it promised to be with our provinces and finally fix healthcare.”
Aitchison promised to be the type of leader that does not sow division and anger but one who inspires and unites.
He told fellow Conservatives that “the only way we are going to win in every part of this country is through our unity, by respecting each other, by talking about the big ideas and demonstrating to Canadians that we have the commitment, the courage, the character to be trusted to govern.” Aitchison also echoed some of those sentiments in French, a language he has been studying in order to gain the confidence of his party and francophone Canadians.
“When I say I’m opposed to the carbon tax it’s not because it’s politically convenient. It’s because I represent hardworking people who cannot afford to paint their homes and put healthy food on the table. There are people that cannot afford to wait for a small refund at the end of the year. We must not make the most vulnerable in our society carry the heaviest burden when it comes to tackling climate change. I ask you to join our team and we will help Canadians reduce their carbon footprint, not just punish them,” he said.
He spoke of freedom of religion, “our party has a proud tradition of being a voice for freedom of religion across the world. We must have the courage of our convictions to do the same here at home in every province and territory. This includes the right of every single Canadian to proudly wear a cross or a hijab, a turban, or a kippah at their place of worship. Bill 21 is wrong, and we must stand up to it.”
Aitchison said that under his leadership all Conservatives would have a genuine seat at the table, and invited all Canadians to join them.
“We must be the generation that finally ensures that every single Canadian has access to clean drinking water whether they live on a reserve or not. We must be the generation that understands our environment is our economy and our economy is our environment,” said Aitchison. “We must be the generation that restores Canada’s reputation in the world. We must choose to be ambitious. We must choose to be fearless. We must choose our own destiny as Canadians, but we cannot do it as a fractured people,” he said.
Aitchison blamed politicians for carelessly demonizing one group of Canadians to appeal to another.
“So let today be the day that we tell those who seek to divide Canada [that]we’re putting an end to the politics of fear and anger. That right here, right now, together we will begin to write a new chapter on what government can be. It won’t be all things to all people, but it must be a place where we can all come together and ensure that nobody gets left behind. That it must be a place where your influence as a citizen matters more than a few connected insiders.”
Aitchison told his supporters there will be those who seek to divide. “There will be those who dismiss me, maybe even attack me personally. What the critics forget is that hope is infectious. That unity is strength. That our work ethic is the basis of our optimism. That we won’t back down from a fight and we will never be deterred from standing up for anyone left behind.”
He told those present that there is nothing wrong with Canada that cannot be fixed with everything that is right with Canada. “And together we will prove that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can indeed change the world.”
Aitchison speaks to supporters on March 20 at Canvas Brewing Company in Huntsville, where he formally announced that he’ll be running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
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