Nova Scotia·Q&A

New president of the federal Conservatives on his party's path ahead

Rob Batherson, a long-time Progressive Conservative from Nova Scotia, spoke with CBC Radio's Information Morning about climate change, past leaders and what's next for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Rob Batherson is a long-time PC Party volunteer from Nova Scotia

Rob Batherson says his new role as party president is largely behind the scenes, setting out the party’s constitution and organizing national conventions. (CBC)

A long-time Progressive Conservative from Nova Scotia was recently picked to be the federal party's new president and he takes over during an interesting time for the party. 

Last week, delegates at the Conservative national convention voted against adding the line "climate change is real" to an official policy document. Leader Erin O'Toole has said there's no debate to be had, and that he'll present a plan to fight climate change before the next election.

"If Erin O'Toole says it's going to happen, it will," Rob Batherson told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Friday. 

Batherson took over the volunteer position earlier this month and is party's first president from Atlantic Canada. He spoke with host Portia Clark about last week's news and where the federal party is heading.

Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length. 

Erin O'Toole made it clear that he's making [climate change] a focus, and yet it's not been included that climate change is real ... so where does that leave Erin O'Toole in terms of his support?

The reality is if people go to right now and look at the existing policy declaration, there is language around action for climate change. In fact, climate change is mentioned more in the Conservative policy document than cutting taxes, which often is associated as a policy priority for Conservative parties. So regardless of what happened with that particular motion, and if you listen to the debate itself — and it wasn't a very long debate — nobody questioned climate change in that debate itself.

I'm not a mind reader. I can't discern why people necessarily voted one way or the other, but the reality is the existing policy declaration commits the party to action on climate change. That has been the case for several years now, and more important of all, is the leader of the party, the person who sets the platform for the Conservative Party of Canada, the person who will be responsible and accountable as prime minister of Canada ... is committed to a climate change plan. 

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says that he takes climate change seriously and his party will have a policy to address it before the next federal election. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

And ultimately, that's what Erin O'Toole will be judged on in the next election. He has been very clear that we need a better plan that will resonate with Canadians, that Canadians will support. And I would say for the last 20 years of any Conservative Party leader — and it's not to criticize past leaders — but Erin has been the most consistent and clear as to what needs to be done on climate change, so Canadians can take that to the bank.

What would you say the key differences are between Andrew Scheer and Erin O'Toole?

I think what Erin O'Toole has articulated is the fact that we need to better connect with Canadians, particularly in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. He is working on the plan right now and, you know, I'm not going to get ahead of my leader as to what that plan will look like. But when the plan comes out, Canadians will be able to judge that and cast their votes accordingly. Keeping in mind there's already a very strong electoral base to build on. Andrew Scheer won the popular vote in 2019, had the largest number of MPs as part of an Official Opposition in Canadian history, so it's not going to be that big a leap to convince more Canadians to support the Conservative Party of Canada. 

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston speaks with reporters last month. (Robert Short/CBC)

The provincial conservative leader here, Tim Houston, is distancing himself somewhat from the federal version of the party after the "change is real" issue came up recently. What are the differences between the provincial and federal versions, and does that concern you at all? 

No. Look, I support Tim Houston at the provincial level. I'm a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia, and as a Progressive Conservative provincially, I am very comfortable in the federal Conservative Party. 

Tim Houston has a job to do. He's the leader of a provincial party, and I'm sure he's going to articulate on issues that are important to Nova Scotians, regardless of what is happening at the federal level, and that's what he should do. Anybody who wants to see the differences between both parties, they can go online, they can check out the vision and the mission of the PC Party of Nova Scotia. They can check out the principles of the Conservative Party of Canada and our policy statement and compare and contrast. The reality is though, the vast majority of Progressive Conservative Party members are also active in the federal party. 

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning