OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Thursday Canadians “should be proud to put our flag back up” after it has remained at half-mast on the Peace Tower and other federal buildings since late spring to mark the finding of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools.
The flags were ordered lowered at the end of May after ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be the remains of more than 200 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
The finding provoked grief across Canada. Then more were found at other former schools, including 751 unmarked graves discovered by Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.
O’Toole said reconciliation is important to him, and it’s time to recommit to build up the country.
“I think to recommit to Canada we have to be proud of Canada,” he said during a campaign announcement at the party’s broadcast studio in Ottawa.
“I’ve been talking to Indigenous leaders since I became Opposition leader. Reconciliation will be important for me as will be pride in Canada, building it up, making more opportunity for more people including Indigenous Peoples. That will be my priority and I do think we should be proud to put our flag back up.”
He repeated remarks he made leading up to July 1 that Canada Day shouldn’t be cancelled, and the country shouldn’t be torn down.
At the time, O’Toole questioned how much pride in the county other federal leaders felt, including Justin Trudeau after he and some of his ministers said Canada Day should be a time to reflect on its colonial legacy and its mistreatment of Indigenous people.
He shared a similar message Wednesday while speaking to supporters at a rally in Hamilton, where he paid tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was from the Ontario city. He was killed while standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa in October 2014 by a gunman who then launched an attack on Parliament Hill.
“The Liberals, the NDP and the Greens always seem to want to tear our country down, always focusing on where we fall short and never where we have stepped up,” O’Toole told the crowd.
“If you don’t take pride in your country, if you don’t truly love your country, are you truly going to commit to digging deep to be a part of making Canada a country you truly know it can be?”
In response to O’Toole’s comment Thursday, a Liberal party spokesman said Trudeau believes in listening to and working in partnership with Indigenous people.”Unlike Mr. O’Toole and the Conservative party, a Liberal government will continue to walk the path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples — not dictating how things ought to be done to them,” the party statement read.
While campaigning in Winnipeg next to local First Nations leaders, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said symbolic measures like lowering flags is important, “but what’s more important is that we actually walk the path of justice” and help Indigenous communities search for more graves.
Indigenous people are among the groups the Conservative leader hopes to woo by Sept. 20 to cast a ballot in his favour, along with young people, those in the LGBTQ community and working-class voters.
O’Tooleran in last year’s leadership race as the ‘true blue’ candidate with ambition to grow the party’s support.
He wrote reconciliation into the party’s election platform, promising to implement six specific calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation that deals with the deaths of children at residential schools and where they were buried.
He also committed that a Conservative government would make progress on the commission’s recommendations from 2015, and put together an action plan to deal with all the calls to action.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.