Tuesday August 25, 2020
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday August 25, 2020
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s job jar filled to the brim
Canadians may not know much about Erin O’Toole, but they should know this much: Don’t underestimate the Ontario MP who has emerged as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
O’Toole was seen by political insiders and media pundits as a dark horse in the leadership race, which many considered to be a coronation for the more high-profile candidate, Peter MacKay.
However, O’Toole’s team ran a solid, nearly error-free campaign. That and the surprising strength of social conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis, who ultimately threw her support behind O’Toole, sealed the victory. Without that support, he probably would not have easily defeated MacKay.
Now, O’Toole faces a raft of challenges. To start with, who is he, and what sort of party is he leading?
When he ran for the leadership last time against Andrew Scheer, O’Toole portrayed himself as a centrist, moderate candidate. That didn’t go particularly well given he finished behind Scheer and the libertarian Max Bernier.
So O’Toole borrowed a page from Bernier’s book, and this time portrayed himself much further to the right, which allowed him to hammer away at MacKay as being too soft, too moderate, too “Liberal lite.” He campaigned much more aggressively and wasn’t above gutter fighting — referring to MacKay as a “liar” during the French language debate.
But which O’Toole is leading the party — the more moderate version or the hard-right conservative version? And how will he explain himself to the party and to Canadians, since he cannot be both things?
Then there is his party. From a membership and fundraising perspective, it is in good shape. From a shared vision perspective, things are not so clear. There was general recognition during and after the last election that the party needed to broaden its base of support, particularly in Ontario and Quebec. The CPC may be No. 1 with a bullet in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but that doesn’t mean it will be able to defeat the Liberals and form a government.
Growing its support in Ontario and Quebec means the party’s personality and platform must better reflect the views of citizens. But we know there is broad support for strong environmental policies among those citizens, and O’Toole, as well as other candidates, has said he will kill any carbon tax.
We also know that Ontarians and Quebecers tend to hold more socially progressive views — they don’t want to spend time debating matters of gender and reproductive rights. But O’Toole owes his victory to not one but two social conservative candidates — the aforementioned Lewis and Derek Sloan — who would place restrictions on a woman’s right to choose abortion if she wants one. How will that translate in the minds of central Canadian citizens?
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is another leader who owes his party leadership to social conservatives. His way of dealing with this paradox was decidedly Ford-like: He wooed social conservatives when he needed them and then avoided them like the plague once elected leader. The same approach could work for O’Toole, but the national stage is not the same as the Ontario stage. If the new leader doesn’t offer some payback, it will not play well in Western Canada where social conservatism is stronger.
Literally the same day as his victory, so-cons were knocking on O’Toole’s door. The pro-life lobby group We Need a Law issued a statement congratulating him and reminding him to “include the pro-life agenda” in his platform.
Party personality. His own leadership style. Building a platform that appeals in Ontario and Quebec. O’Toole’s to-do list is daunting. And with a Throne speech coming next month, time is of the essence. (Hamilton Spectator editorial)