‘We’re a big tent party’: Erin O’Toole says he’s not worried about PPC splitting votes

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he’s not worried about Maxime Bernier‘s Peoples Party of Canada chipping away at Tory support, even as crowds of PPC supporters gather in large groups across the country.

Bernier is running 311 candidates in the federal election. Despite sitting at just four per cent of popular support in public opinion polls, the PPC leader and his team are hoping for a “purple wave” of former Conservative voters and others flipping to the PPC on Sept. 20.

Read more: Former PPC London riding president arrested for Trudeau gravel-throwing incident

Speaking in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, though, O’Toole said he isn’t worried about that possibility.

“I’m curious to know, do you think that’s part of your base that is going to the People’s Party of Canada? Are you worried that they could actually affect your electoral outcome and take some of your vote if you’re moving towards the center?” asked Stephenson in the interview.

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O’Toole replied “no.”

“The Conservative Party of Canada is a big tent party. We represent all Canadians, all backgrounds, all walks of life. And I’ve been trying to grow that tent because our country’s facing a lot of challenges,” he said.

“The last thing it needs is division. The last thing it needs is anger and driving wedges between people.”

Click to play video: 'Canada election: Trudeau says he won’t let ‘anti-vaxxer mobs dictate’ how country gets out of pandemic' Canada election: Trudeau says he won’t let ‘anti-vaxxer mobs dictate’ how country gets out of pandemic

Canada election: Trudeau says he won’t let ‘anti-vaxxer mobs dictate’ how country gets out of pandemic

The PPC has pounced on anti-vaccine and anti-mask sentiment in Canada, attracting many voters who feel these policies infringe on their freedoms. PPC signs can be spotted regularly at protests across the country, including outside hospitals and at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s events.

One of those protests grew especially heated as Trudeau left an event in London, Ont., on Labour Day. As protesters jeered Trudeau, who was flanked by media, a man picked up gravel and threw it at both Trudeau and the journalists. While no injuries were reported, Shane Marshall, 25, was charged with one count of assault with a weapon.

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Read more: ‘You don’t want us to be powerful’: Bernier says he and the PPC aren’t going away

Marshall was the president of the PPC Elgin Middlesex London riding association. He was removed from his position after the incident.

“There’s a lot of anger” among voters right now, according to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“People are angry at our premier. They’re angry at the prime minister. They’re even angry at Mr. O’Toole, though I don’t know why they’re angry at him. He hasn’t done anything yet,” Nenshi told Stephenson during a panel aired on The West Block on Sunday.

Click to play video: 'Canada election: Protesters throw gravel at Trudeau in London, Ont.' Canada election: Protesters throw gravel at Trudeau in London, Ont.

Canada election: Protesters throw gravel at Trudeau in London, Ont.

Despite this anger, Nenshi agreed that O’Toole shouldn’t be too concerned about the PPC eroding Conservative support.

“This sort of anti-vax, anti-mask vote is there. I know people who are anti-vax because they’re quite left wing who now have PPC banners on their social media,” Nenshi said.

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“But ultimately, maybe you go from a 70 per cent margin to a 60 per cent margin in some ridings in rural Alberta, you still win the seat.”

However, some Conservative-leaning organizations have been on the defensive when it comes to the PPC. Canada Proud, a registered third-party advertiser whose stated aim is to defeat Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, has stepped up warnings about a vote split on the right.

Read more: Maxime Bernier loses his riding in Beauce

The organization led by Jeff Ballingall, who served as digital director of O’Toole’s 2020 leadership race, has been pushing out memes and social-media videos to get its message across.

That online effort has coincided with growing realizations about the extent to which social media has been feeding anti-vaccine and anti-Trudeau sentiments among segments of the Canadian population.

Click to play video: 'Canada election: O’Toole calls gravel throwing incident at Trudeau campaign event ‘completely unacceptable’' Canada election: O’Toole calls gravel throwing incident at Trudeau campaign event ‘completely unacceptable’

Canada election: O’Toole calls gravel throwing incident at Trudeau campaign event ‘completely unacceptable’

One Canada Proud post includes a smiling photo of the Liberal leader captioned: “Trudeau when he finds out you’re voting PPC.” A second photo below depicts him wide-eyed with the caption: “Trudeau when he finds out you’re voting Conservative.”

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“Like it or not, if we split the vote, Trudeau wins again,” says an accompanying post. “If you’re voting for PPC, you’re voting for Trudeau,” reads another.

Read more: Maxime Bernier, party supporters, get into heated exchange with N.B. education minister

Trudeau, who has faced much of the ire of PPC supporters, has been steadfast in speaking out against the obscenity-hurling crowds. He did so once again on Tuesday, one day after the gravel throwing incident.

He said “anti-vaxxer mobs” would not stop him from campaigning in person this election.

“Nobody should be doing their jobs under the threats of violence or acts to put them in danger. That’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

–With files from The Canadian Press, Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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