On August 23, after hours of technical delays caused by a machine ripping ballots, Erin O’Toole was named as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. This came as a surprise to many pundits who had predicted that Peter MacKay would take the win on the first ballot, but after months of campaigning, O’Toole was able to gain widespread support. MacKay did win the first ballot with 30.30% of votes to O’Toole’s 29.39%, but with the other candidates, Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis, who dropped off, the votes went to O’Toole. The race ended on the third ballot, with O’Toole gaining 58.86% of the votes and MacKay reaching only 41.14%.
At the beginning of the leadership campaign, polls showed MacKay with a strong lead over his contenders. However, the campaign suffered from communication mishaps. An experienced O’Toole campaign team put in long days and nights of work and convinced Conservative members that O’Toole’s “true blue” approach was the right direction.
Erin O’Toole was first elected to the House of Commons in a 2012 by-election in the riding of Durham, which is on the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area. In 2015, he was appointed as Minister of Veteran Affairs to help repair the relationship with veterans damaged by his predecessor. He succeeded in doing so within a few months of the 2015 election. In 2017, O’Toole ran for the Conservative Party leadership and came in third place, losing to Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier.
Fast-forward to the present: O’Toole now leads a caucus of 121 Members of Parliament in a minority parliament. In his first weeks, he will be looking to define himself and introduce himself to Canadians, especially in light of a possible federal election looming in the fall. The Liberals have already tried to paint him as a social conservative out of touch with most Canadians. In response, O’Toole has forcefully stated that he is a pro-choice MP, in stark contrast to his recent predecessor. This, along with his approachable demeanor and past experience, makes him a real contender for becoming Canada’s next prime minister.
His platform during the leadership race should be of interest to many AED members. O’Toole would continue investing in infrastructure and would be an ally for Alberta’s oil and gas sector. This includes repealing specific legislation that is seen as harmful to the industry and introducing legislation that would make it easier to build pipelines. He is also in favor of building trade relationships across the world and has been a vocal advocate of creating a free trade agreement between Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand (CANZUK). Overall, his policies are very pro-business and would likely have benefits for AED members.
Parliament is set to resume on September 23. O’Toole will continue to try to define himself as the Liberals try to define him at the same time. His challenge will be to become a known entity to Canadians before the next election and lead a diverse caucus in the House of Commons. With polls continuing to go up and down, the following weeks and months will show where Canadian politics is headed.