OTTAWA — Canada's Conservatives are unapologetically in election campaign mode as they gather in Ottawa for a three-day caucus retreat this weekend.
The MPs and Senators have gathered in part to prepare for the reopening of Parliament next week after the lengthy Christmas break, but it is Oct. 21 — election day — that is getting most of their attention.
The weekend event, which kicked off Friday, will feature a number of activities and discussions about campaign strategy and preparedness.
Many of the 110 candidates who have been elected in ridings not currently held by Conservatives will attend special "victory school" campaign training alongside MPs and take part in discussions about how to rally support from Canadians.
The party is sharpening its message to Canadians to convince them the Conservatives are ready to topple the Trudeau government.
"(Our priority) is going to be talking about Canadian families and Canadian families' affordability today, the fact that they are feeling the pinch, because that's what we're being told in our ridings," Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt told reporters as the retreat was getting underway Friday.
She said the Conservatives want Canadians to understand that leader Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party understand the struggles of ordinary Canadians who don't have an "infinite pot of money" from which to draw.
"That will become very apparent in the way that we'll be asking questions in the House of Commons," she said.
On Thursday, the party announced its preliminary fundraising results for the final quarter of 2018 at $7.3 million, bringing the total amount raised in 2018 to $24 million. Tory officials say they have never raised this much in a non-election year.
Last year also saw a record number of donors with over 49,000 Canadians donating an average of $148 for the year, according to the party. Official fundraising results have not yet been released by Elections Canada, so fourth quarter donations for other parties are not yet available for comparison.
While Conservatives are celebrating their war chest success, they are not wasting any time continuing to build the party's coffers in preparation for the official writ drop.
"The battle for 2019 has already begun" declared an email blast to members ahead of the retreat .The email challenged party donors to raise $50,000 by the end of the weekend as a way to thumb their nose at "special interest groups" such as union bosses, and "U.S. funded anti-development organizations" the party claims are planning a smear campaign against Scheer during the election.
Meanwhile, Scheer has been on the road holding town halls, which are open to the public and media and have been live-streamed on social media.
The crowds have largely been friendly faces — party faithful who like to hear jabs at Trudeau's expense and often take a few of their own. Scheer has faced some uncomfortable questions at some of them about his stance against reopening the abortion debate and the former Conservative government's record on helping veterans.
At a town hall in Edmonton in December Scheer firmly disagreed with one man who asked him to deliver a "Vivre la Alberta libre" sign to Trudeau.
He was also asked whether he feared the new People's Party of Canada formed by former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier might split the Conservative vote in some ridings, allowing the Liberals to win more seats.
Scheer responded by saying he is confident that "everyone to the right of Justin Trudeau" will see the Conservative party has the best chance of defeating the Liberals.
"We have an opportunity to defeat Justin Trudeau and that is what is at stake," Scheer replied.
"I am convinced that the people who may, at one point or another, have been contemplating or looking at what that other party might provide are seeing that it is our party that not only has a chance to win... but actually has a positive vision for how we can make this country so wonderful and get us back on track."
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Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press