As Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown urged 300 people in one of the few vacant industrial warehouses in Barrie to talk about Conservative values and what matters to Canadians, Barrie firefighters fought a car fire outside the door.
“It’s a pretty hot event,” said one firefighter, a member of the Barrie Professional Fire Fighters’ Association (BFFA), of the fundraising and party-building event dubbed Conservative Futures.
It’s not hard to get a firefighter to talk about Brown’s hard work. They’ve supported since his early days in politics, as a municipal councilor.
Brown – who served as MP before running for the provincial leadership – urged the crowd to get in the game, to not be afraid, to knock on doors they think might be closed.
“We shouldn’t write off any voting segment, even a union. If you want the puck, you have to fight for it. You have to show up,” he said. “You have to show up at their events.”
He reminded Conservatives they care about health care, the environment and jobs – all which resonate with voters.
“In 2015… it’s important to understand where we were wrong,” he said. “If we do not defend minority rights and minority communities of every religion or race, every cultural group will say “Are we next?”’
That’s how the party lost its support in urban ridings that are diverse, he said.
“You have to listen. There cannot be a closed door, even if it’s a group you’ve been told are not our ally.”
Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP Alex Nuttall acknowledged he didn’t come from the groups typically associated with Conservartives.
Nuttall reminded the crowd, not just with suits but with a few busloads of younger voters, he was a kid raised in social housing and his family depended on Christmas Cheer and the food bank. He did, however, go on to run for city council, go to university and have a career in banking.
For young voters like Barrie’s Cole Walsh and Newmarket’s James Prowse, the message of giving people a hand up rather than a hand out resonated. He appealed to their work ethic.
For Prowse, he saw defeat as he worked on the campaign of Conservative Lois Brown and he opted to spend the last Saturday of March Break hearing how to rebuild the party.
“It was crushing after all the hard work our campaign team put in. It was crushing to be defeated when our riding historically has been Conservative,” said the 18-year-old Sacred Heart Catholic High School student.
For Walsh, also 18, it helped him define himself.
“Open your mind to all the possibilities,” said Walsh, who fought Nuttall as he worked on Liberal Brian Tamblyn’s campaign.
“It’s funny how things change. My parents and grandparents are socialists. (But at Conservative Futures), there’s that sense of Canada. You think of all the groups that we have as a nation and it’s embodied in the Conservative spirit.”
And for the financially focused, the Conservative Futures event took the Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte Conservative riding association out of the red and into the black, as it raised $90,000.
The event continues with a reception and dinner that will boost the day’s attendance to 600.