OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole put more flesh on the bones of his party’s election platform this week with a trio of announcements highlighting the dual challenge ahead in this campaign: keep the party base motivated and bring in new voters.

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Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole worked to reconnect with rural voters — many who are stalwart supporters — by pledging to better connect them to the nation’s internet infrastructure and also to Ottawa.

PAUL DALY - THE CANADIAN PRESS

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole worked to reconnect with rural voters — many who are stalwart supporters — by pledging to better connect them to the nation’s internet infrastructure and also to Ottawa.

OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole put more flesh on the bones of his party’s election platform this week with a trio of announcements highlighting the dual challenge ahead in this campaign: keep the party base motivated and bring in new voters.

With an election expected to begin as early as Sunday, O’Toole’s three stops — Belleville, Oakville and Waterloo, Ont. — was a soft-launch of what the party expects to be the rhythm of their campaign: stops to make announcements and take questions, and then onto other events throughout the day.

His first promise this week was a move to reconnect with rural voters — many who are stalwart supporters — by pledging to better connect them to the nation’s internet infrastructure and also to Ottawa, by, among other things, appointing a minister of rural affairs to cabinet.

Then it was onto jobs and the economy, the main thrust of the Tories’ election offering, which has been taking shape since the policy convention this spring.

There, O’Toole laid out five priority areas for a Conservative government, a branding effort that called to mind 2006 and then-Conservative leader Stephen Harper winning government with a pitch to voters that he’d achieve five specific things.

O’Toole’s approach is more thematic than specific, ranging from a broad-brush category called “country” to the more narrow “mental health.”

But the platform — eventually to be fully-costed by the parliamentary budget officer — will be sold to voters as a blueprint for a post-pandemic Canada.

“Justin Trudeau’s planning an election in the middle of a pandemic because he’s focused on politics,” O’Toole tweeted late Thursday.

“It’s time we had a prime minister planning an economic recovery focused on Canadians. We’re ready.”

Some pitches did land before this week; O’Toole’s climate change approach was unveiled in April, and he’s put forward promises related to COVID-19 management and being better prepared for future crises.

He has a ready source of ideas — his own leadership campaign platform — but his team has also spent months consulting with conservative-minded policy thinkers and looking at provincial conservative governments for potential fodder.

One idea unveiled this week, $250 million over two years for a job training support fund, is modelled on a similar program rolled out by the Ontario Progressive Conservative government.

Another — a $5 billion cash infusion to start a new research and development agency — has floated around for months as an antidote to Canada’s lagging approach to the development of new ideas, products or services crucial to economic growth, a concept wrapped up in the buzzword of innovation.

The Canadian Advanced Research Agency that Conservatives propose would spur development in carbon capture, utilization and storage, electric vehicles and pharmaceutical technologies, among other things, O’Toole said, during a stop in Canada’s tech hub of Waterloo, Ont.

“Make no mistake, the next great breakthrough and the one after that will come from right here in Canada,” he said.

“The world needs more Canadian leadership, and more ambitious Canadian innovation.”

Policies to spur innovation are a tough pitch to make on doorsteps — another reason O’Toole got his out early — but they do respond to long-standing demands in the technology and business sector.

The R&D agency O’Toole is pitching is one example. It’s an echo of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, set up during the space race with Russia, and whose work is responsible for the GPS maps in your car, among other real-world technologies.

“A Canadian version will not solve Canada’s innovation challenges on its own, but it is a key ingredient in a complex recipe,” wrote Robert Asselin — once a senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — in a recent prebudget submission earlier this year in his current role as vice president of policy at the Business Council of Canada.

“If it imports all the benefits of DARPA it would act as a powerful public-private bridge. It would streamline our ability to commercialize our ideas and do transformative applied research.”

O’Toole promising a new government-funded agency is notable, given many conservatives get their hackles up when government cash flows direct to business, which they tend to suggest is either “corporate welfare” or the government picking winners and losers, rather than allowing the market to shape outcomes.

At the same time, however, the O’Toole Tories are playing on concerns about too much foreign involvement in all elements of Canadian life, and getting the government engaged in industry is one way to counter that, he suggested this week.

“We want the jobs, the amazing new technologies and the profits to stay right here at home and not be sent off to foreign multinationals.”

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Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz