Erin O’Toole reached out to all supporters of the Conservative Party to win the leadership race. The unanswered question is whether he can lead his party to electoral victory against the Trudeau Liberals.
The 47-year-old MP seemed unlikely to win just a month ago for those looking at polls for an indication, when a Maru/Blue poll suggested that former defence minister Peter MacKay was the favoured choice of 55 percent of Conservative Party voters and that O’Toole was the choice of just 23 percent of voters.
MacKay skipped debates in July in Vancouver and Toronto as the campaigns of O’Toole and Leslyn Lewis continued to gain momentum. Then there was his comment last fall, when he said that questions around abortion and same-sex marriage on the 2019 campaign trail “hung around [Conservative leader] Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross.”
“The big story here is the role of social conservatives in picking O’Toole for the top because clearly MacKay wasn’t their person,” Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political science professor, told The Epoch Times.
O’Toole campaigned as a “true blue” Conservative who would “take back Canada.” On the third ballot, he won with 57 percent support and was the favoured choice in every province except New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.
In his acceptance speech in Ottawa during the wee hours of Aug. 24, O’Toole vowed to hold Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to account, unite the Conservative Party of Canada, and champion conservative principles.
“Canadians were able to see an individual who is both intelligent and empathetic and connected to provinces, communities, and the people,” Joseph Garcea, a professor of political science at the University of Saskatchewan, says of O’Toole’s acceptance speech.
“Mr. O’Toole knows which side his bread is buttered on and he will be somewhat responsive to the demands that are being made by the western premiers. And then he’ll have to figure out what to do with the Maritimes, with Quebec, and with Ontario.”
Wiseman says O’Toole is “reasonably positioned” to lead the Conservatives to victory, should Canadians want that.
“Because we’ve always had only Liberals and Conservatives in this country. And when they’re fed up with one, they’ll vote for the other,” he says. “The Conservatives are behind now, but now they’re getting all this media attention … and this’ll boost their numbers.”
Despite losing the last federal election, the Conservatives won 34 percent of the popular vote and the Liberals 33 percent. A poll published Aug. 21 by Abacus Data placed Liberal support at 36 percent and the Conservatives at 30 percent.
Daniel Bernier of Earnscliffe Strategy Group says the same provinces that were central to O’Toole’s leadership win will also be important for a Conservative win should a federal election be called.
“Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec support was important for O’Toole and will be key for an election,” he says.
Garcea says that despite O’Toole’s experience as an MP, he’ll be on a learning curve whether he becomes Canada’s next prime minister or stays as the leader of the Opposition.
“It’s a little bit different to deal with issues from the benches than from the speaker’s chair,” he says.
“Where you stand is a function of where you sit, and how you perform is similarly a function of where you’re sitting. And so he’s going to be sitting in a different seat, and the context is right. Now he just has to perform.”