Wednesday October 21, 2015

Conservative MP Ron Liepert urges party to 'show some compassion'

Ron Liepert speaks after defeating Rob Anders during the Calgary Signal Hill federal Conservative nomination, in Calgary on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Ron Liepert speaks after defeating Rob Anders during the Calgary Signal Hill federal Conservative nomination, in Calgary on Saturday, April 12, 2014. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Listen 6:41

Ron Liepert spent the day taking down the last of his campaign signs across his riding of Calgary Signal Hill. But the cleanup within his own party has barely begun. 

The newly-elected Conservative MP in Calgary is reflecting this week on what went wrong in an election where his party faced a stunning defeat.

He tells As It Happens host Carol Off he first noticed trouble early on in the campaign, while he was door-knocking. 

"Every second Conservative door said they were voting Conservative but they weren't terribly happy with the prime minister. And that surprised me, how that was the situation in Calgary. I expected it might be elsewhere in the country, but not in Calgary," Liepert says. 

I hope that we can put some heart [into the party] and show some compassion, and talk about the issues that Canadians and our constituents want us to talk about. - Tory MP Ron Liepert

Liepert served as a Progressive Conservative MLA in Alberta before securing a federal Conservative seat this week. He thinks the Progressive Conservative "management style" is more effective than its federal counterpart -- and that needs to change.

"I hope that we can put some heart [into the party] and show some compassion, and talk about the issues that Canadians and our constituents want us to talk about," he says.

He says he hoped to talk to voters about issues like jobs and the economy, but there were major distractions. Issues like the niqab and a hotline for "barbaric cultural practices" eventually made their way into the Conservatives' campaign messaging.

"We went into this campaign being told that the economy and jobs were the only issue, and we weren't to stray off message. And frankly, it seemed like after the first few weeks, we were discussing just about everything else except jobs and the economy," he says.

"It made it more difficult at the door because then you had the voter focusing on things I didn't want them to be focusing on."

Liepert says that from the beginning of the campaign, it was clear that the party was being run in a top-down way, something he doesn't support.

"The campaign was very much Ottawa-driven. I would be looking for a caucus that was driven by 99 constituents around the table...not a group of unelected people in the Prime Minister's Office," he says.

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Conservative Party campaign manager Jenni Byrne, right, is seen at a Harper campaign stop in Toronto, Ontario on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

He points the finger at one PMO staffer and campaign leader in particular -- Conservative campaign manager Jenni Byrne. He recalls a meeting he had with Byrne early on in the campaign.

"My first meeting with Jenni Byrne was unpleasant. It was very much a top-down management style and I don't operate [that way]. I operate in a style that is cohesive, and I just didn't get that feeling as a candidate."

He says that her departure from the Prime Minister's Office and the Conservative Party would be "a good first step." He says he's eager to work with staffers who are receptive to the members of Parliament they work with.

"I think part of it is just gut when you sit down at a table and you see who's talking, and who's listening. I'm going to go in with an open mind and I believe that the message has been sent."