The Daily Telegraph

Trudeau rival closes gap after taking leaf from Tory playbook

- By Rozina Sabur in Whitby, Ontario

T‘I moved away to join the army. Unlike Mr Trudeau, I did a few things before I showed up in parliament’

he man hoping to unseat Justin Trudeau modelled his tactics on Boris Johnson and David Cameron’s victories, The Daily Telegraph can reveal, even hiring strategist­s from the Conservati­ves’ 2019 win in his bid to become the next Canadian prime minister.

Erin O’toole, the 48-year-old leader of the Conservati­ve Party of Canada, is now within striking distance of achieving that goal on Sept 20.

The latest polls by Abacus Data show him in a tight race against Mr Trudeau’s Liberals with each party tied with 32 per cent of the vote.

Elected to lead his party just a year ago, Mr O’toole, a former Air Force navigator and lawyer, had struggled to introduce himself to voters in the midst of the pandemic.

But with just days to go before a snap election called by Mr Trudeau, Mr O’toole has surprised even members of his own party by erasing the prime minister’s early lead.

His emergence owes something to voter dissatisfa­ction with the Liberal leader, who has been in power for six years. Many are frustrated at Mr Trudeau’s decision to call an early election to secure a greater mandate while the country is in the grip of a fourth wave of Covid-19.

But strategist­s say Mr O’toole’s rise in the polls can also be credited to his “big tent” campaign strategy.

He staked out a moderate position on issues such as climate change and abortion early on – distancing himself from hardliners in the party – to appeal to a broader group of voters.

Mr O’toole’s aides “studied what [David] Cameron did very closely” when he rebranded the party’s image in 2005, according to a senior source in the Canadian leader’s campaign.

“They both took over parties that had suffered multiple losses and a very poor brand,” the source said, though stressing that the Tory strategy was “adapted” to Canadian politics.

Patrick Muttart, a former deputy chief of staff to former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, said there were “very strong similariti­es between O’toole and Cameron”.

“Everything Cameron did with the party from a stylistic perspectiv­e was about modernisat­ion and ensuring that the Tories weren’t seen as the nasty party… you see something similar with O’toole,” he said.

Mr Muttart, who is now based in the UK, added: “However, from a substantiv­e policy perspectiv­e – his focus on aspiration­al issues, reaching out to unions – I see a lot more of Johnson-style patriotism and the levelling-up agenda that is so talked about here in the UK.”

Campaign sources said Mr O’toole had specifical­ly taken lessons from Mr Johnson’s success in winning back blue-collar voters in the 2019 election. The Daily Telegraph understand­s that former advisers to Mr Johnson who helped secure him a majority in that vote have also been hired by Mr O’toole’s campaign.

They include James Kanagasoor­iam, who runs Stack Data Strategy, a data analysis company, and Sean Topham, co-founder of the consultanc­y firm Topham Guerin.

Those close to Mr O’toole say that, should he win the premiershi­p, he would have a “very good” relationsh­ip with Mr Johnson in particular. “We talk to our counterpar­ts frequently and have good relationsh­ips, especially amongst UK Tories. We’ve learned as much from them as we could. There are definitely relationsh­ips below the prime ministeria­l level that are very strong,” one campaign source said.

In an interview with The Telegraph after the final election debate in Gatineau, Quebec, Mr O’toole said strengthen­ing ties with the UK and other Nato allies would be a policy priority as prime minister.

“I want our Nato allies and Five Eyes allies to know we will be there as a strong partner,” he said. “We will stand up for human rights. We have a lot of concerns with the conduct of the communist government in China, and we will look at innovative partnershi­ps to work even closer with the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.”

On the domestic front, Mr O’toole has framed the race as a choice between Mr Trudeau’s fiscal profligacy and his own more moderate economic plan for post-pandemic recovery.

The married father of two has focused his pitch on voters in the greater Toronto area, a vote-rich region, which could be a decisive factor in the election.

At a recent event outside a barn in Whitby, a small town 35 miles east of Toronto, Mr O’toole drew on his upbringing in the region.

“The first time I really moved away, it was to join the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said, dressed in blue canvas

shoes and a casual suit. “Unlike Mr Trudeau, I did a few things before I showed up in parliament,” he added to cheers from the crowd.

It is a message that resonated with many of the 100-odd supporters, mostly farmers and small business owners, who had gathered amid the corn fields to greet the Conservati­ve leader.

Giselle Theriault, 36, said she did not follow politics closely but had become concerned with the country’s direction. “I’m not happy with Justin Trudeau,” she said. “I have a son and the debt situation in Canada is really not OK. I want to see change.”

Cathy, a business owner in her 40s, said she had struggled to retain staff in the aftermath of the pandemic and held Mr Trudeau’s benefits programme responsibl­e. “I’m hoping a new government will get people back to work,” she said.

But while optimism was high at the event, a small protest by healthcare workers just outside showed the stiff opposition the Conservati­ves still face.

Nicky, a 49-year-old intensive care nurse in Toronto, said she was barred from Mr O’toole’s event when she arrived with signs demanding he address the healthcare crisis. “We’re a public healthcare system and we want to stay a public healthcare system,” she said, adding that she feared that Mr O’toole favoured privatisat­ion.

It remains to be seen whether he can translate the recent polling boost into an election victory.

 ??  ?? Erin O’toole, leader of the Conservati­ve Party of Canada, campaigns in Mississaug­a, Ontario. He has modelled his bid on the successes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson
Erin O’toole, leader of the Conservati­ve Party of Canada, campaigns in Mississaug­a, Ontario. He has modelled his bid on the successes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson
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