The Conservatives were heavily offside their own base and majority opinion in the country by having previously opposed, and then waffling on the legislation.
Erin O’Toole is being criticized by some groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the World Sikh Organization of Canada for refusing to oppose Quebec Bill 21.
While the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP had previously opposed it and criticized it publicly, O’Toole has refused to do so, instead saying he will respect provincial jurisdiction on the legislation.
Bill 21 – while technically focused on setting rules on the wearing of religious symbols among some public sector workers – is widely seen as an effort to ensure that things like Burkas and Niqabs are not worn by public employees, as an effort to protect the values and Western civilization identity of Quebec.
Notably, the legislation is extremely popular in Quebec, with support between 70% and 80%.
Similar legislation polls very well in the rest of Canada, with about 60% to 70% support.
Many Conservatives also support the legislation, meaning the party was previously totally offside with their political base, and missed a huge opportunity to gain more support in Quebec and among people across Canada who support similar ideas.
So, while he is getting a backlash from some groups, O’Toole has made a wise move, and is showing that he respects provincial jurisdiction, and just as importantly respects democracy.
The criticism of the legislation – including by the Conservatives – had often seemed quite elitist, with politicians arrogantly denouncing something that was incredibly popular among many Canadians.
Abandoning that kind of arrogance is essential for the Conservatives to win, and O’Toole is on the right track so far.
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