National Post (Latest Edition)
O’toole scores but needs to up Tories’ game
There was a question at Erin O’toole’s news conference following the Conservative caucus on Tuesday, the kind that tripped him up during the final days of the campaign, but which this time he turned into a leadership moment.
The same leader who had declined to say how many unvaccinated candidates were running as Conservatives, now said that “all Conservative MPS will follow all health guidelines and rules, not only here on Parliament Hill, but across the country.”
Bring on the provincial passports, or mandates, or whatever. What had been a gotcha gift to the Liberals in mid-september became a common sense response in the first week of October. Any unvaccinated MPS would have to be tested for COVID-19 every time they entered parliamentary buildings, for the safety of everyone working on the Hill. Next.
Regarding the campaign, O’toole stepped up and said: “As leader, I am accountable. Accountable for what went well, and accountable for where we fell short ... I take that very seriously.”
And then, in passing, an unprompted reference to Justin Trudeau.
“I think Mr. Trudeau has already let Canadians down again in his first 10 days,” he said of the prime minister’s flight to the beach at Tofino, B.C., rather than attending events on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, a law enacted by his own government.
“He has more lessons to learn than we do.”
He shoots, he scores. And earlier in caucus, O’toole had turned something called the Reform Act to his advantage. Proposed as a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Michael Chong, and adopted by Parliament in 2015, it gives party caucuses the power to oust their leader following an election defeat, provided 20 per cent of them ask for a vote.
As it happens, O’toole was one of the Conservative MPS, and a cabinet member as well, who had voted in favour of Chong’s bill six years ago, and voted for its 20 per cent clause again on Tuesday, as did Chong. So the leader was aligned with the bill’s author, and it would be up to dissident members of caucus to round up the 24 caucus members needed to cross the 20 per cent threshold on a full vote to remove the leader.
In effect, O’toole ran a pre-emptive takeout. The numbers weren’t there against him.
He had previously acted early on the morrow of the defeat by calling for a full review of the campaign and he recommended defeated MP James Cumming as chair. Cumming lost the Edmonton Centre riding by only 577 votes to Liberal Randy Boissonnault, who as the only Liberal member from the Alberta capital seems destined for the Trudeau cabinet. Cumming will know why the Conservative vote was down double digits in Alberta due to the right-wing People’s Party of Canada, though he might save a word for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s sudden announcement of vaccine passports five days before the election, having previously opened up for Stampede party time. O’toole took a collateral hit for that.
On the other hand, among the many caucus endorsements expressed after the meeting, Chong’s stood out, coming from the creator of the Reform Act. “His leadership is secure, I’m confident in saying that,” Chong told CTV’S News Channel. “I’ve talked to my colleagues today. We had a vigorous discussion in caucus, a frank and honest discussion about what went right and what went wrong.”
What went right was the Conservatives growing in Atlantic Canada, holding their own in Quebec and winning the popular vote again overall, though by less than in 2019. What went wrong, as O’toole himself said, as someone who grew up in the suburbs, was they hardly won at all in the metropolitan areas of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Those three cities hold the keys to the kingdom of power in this country. Their demographic is upwardly mobile, progressive and multicultural, the essence of a nation of immigrants. Over to O’toole.