By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Durham MP Erin O’Toole ultimately has one goal in mind: to be prime minister – and it starts with the Conservative leadership race.
With the election postponed to later this summer, O’Toole says he has been spending his time like everybody else – at home having meetings on Zoom, and reaching out to Canadians via social media.
Speaking with The Oshawa Express, O’Toole says things have been busy for him during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding it’s been strange working from home.
However, he points out he’s been to the House of Commons a few times for votes on aid packages, and asking questions on various issues related to the pandemic.
“I’ve been trying to juggle my duties, and be the primary grocery shopper and errand runner for my family as well,” he says.
The Durham Member of Parliament is currently one of four candidates in the Conservative leadership race, including former Minister of Justice Peter MacKay.
Alongside O’Toole and MacKay are Leslyn Lewis and MP for Hastings – Lennox and Addington Derek Sloan.
After the Conservatives lost the election to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in the fall of 2019, O’Toole admits current party leader Andrew Scheer didn’t run the perfect campaign and he would have a different approach.
“I would address certain policies that I don’t think we showed Canadians where we stood,” he says.
He believes the party “paid the price” for not addressing issues such as climate change, which is a hot button issue in southern Ontario.
“We didn’t put out our policy early enough. We weren’t showing that we had plans to meet our Paris targets, for example, without taxes on Canadians,” O’Toole explains.
He thinks the Conservatives didn’t speak about the issues voters wanted to hear.
“I think people were a bit tired of the obsession about image with the Trudeau government,” he says. “Everything is about photographs and tweets, as opposed to providing a strong future for Canadians.”
He believes people were tired of the Trudeau government, but his own party didn’t pass the “tire kicking test,” for a range of reasons.
He believes voters didn’t think Scheer was ready to be prime minister, and he reiterates voters didn’t see a range of policies they were looking for.
He adds it’s important to note the Conservatives beat the Liberals in the popular vote, and also only lost seats in southern Ontario, where O’Toole is from.
O’Toole is proud to say he would be the first leader of the party from the Greater Toronto Area since 1948.
“I think I will be able to reflect the aspirations of the 905 and Durham Region because I’m a product of it,” he says. “Not only will I connect with voters better, I will make sure we have the policies and the approach that we need to win their confidence.”
While O’Toole is confident he could win the vote originally scheduled in June, it was delayed to August because of the pandemic. But this didn’t bother Durham’s MP.
“I supported it,” he says. “I was actually one of the voices calling for the delay. We needed to make sure that Canadians, families, parliamentarians, and members of the Conservative party could focus on the pandemic.”
He believes the needs of their families and their communities come first, and some are still vulnerable to the virus.
“We certainly didn’t want to seem out of touch with the biggest domestic crisis our country has ever really experienced,” he says.
He says by postponing the race for a couple of months, it allows everyone to focus on the well-being of their families and communities.
As COVID-19 spread across the country, many began to question the response of the federal government. Was it fast enough? Was it strict enough?
With that rumours of a snap election have begun to spread.
O’Toole believes if a snap election were to occur in the fall, he would be ready, as he won his seat in Durham by 7,000 votes.
“I won it by being a strong, principled MP, and a local voice,” he says. “I’m known to be a Conservative, but I’m known to defend our positions. So, I will be ready for it.”
However, he doesn’t think a snap election would be appropriate, and he believes the Liberals would be taking advantage of a crisis by holding an election in the fall.
“Their management of the COVID crisis has been a complete disaster from beginning to end, and I think part of the risk of the election is that they don’t want people to examine that disastrous record,” he says.
He believes Trudeau and the Liberals have been “flip-flopping,” as they only recently came out and recommended the use of masks when out in public after previously saying they aren’t necessary.
“They have not inspired confidence. They were two months late in stopping flights from COVID-19 effected countries and from the border,” he says.
He also believes the Liberal’s economic response has been “a disaster” as he believes far too many people have been put on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and didn’t put supports in place early for small businesses.
“We lost jobs because of their slow action, and it’s going to make the crisis worse,” he says.
Despite the possibility of a snap election, and the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Toole says he feels very positive about his campaign this time around.
“I ran for the leadership last time and I came third out of 14 candidates,” he says. “I learned a lot about our country, our party, and I’m using a lot of those lessons this time.”
He says this time around he and his team are making his policy positions and his approach clear.
“We’re taking strong positions. We have an incredible team I’ve built coast-to-coast, and I think people are resonating with it,” he says.
He notes while early polls were quick to hand the vote to MacKay, things have changed and it is a different race.
“The early narrative in January that this was going to be some sort of coronation for Peter MacKay is not being suggested by anyone anymore,” says O’Toole.
He goes on to state he believes his campaign has surpassed that of MacKay’s due to his presence in the House of Commons.
O’Toole believes he has an advantage due to his position as an MP, whereas MacKay has been out of office for some time.
“I’m a leader for the future, not a leader from the past,” he says.
O’Toole has also received a number of endorsements, and is proud to state Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney has lent his support to the Durham MP.
“Kenney put his faith in his former colleague from Ontario knowing I can get the country back on track,” he says.
To receive the Alberta premier’s endorsement was “wonderful” for O’Toole, who launched his campaign in Alberta.
Last time around, O’Toole launched his campaign at a park in his hometown of Bowmanville.
“It was a park where I learned to play baseball growing up,” he says.
He explains he did the “traditional leadership race” last time, and this time, since the country is “so fractured,” he launched his campaign in Calgary.
“This said, ‘Look, a Conservative from southern Ontario can advocate for your interests, and let’s keep our party and our country united,’” says O’Toole.
He says Kenney took note of this, and was happy to see him facing the issues western Canada has been dealing with, such as the Wexit movement.
“His endorsement was a great sign of the momentum our campaign was already really experiencing, but Jason’s vote of confidence was a huge win for us,” he says.
He notes while most of the media attention has been on himself and MacKay, he believes all three of his opponents are running good campaigns.
He singles out Lewis, and says she has been running a good campaign, and notes she’s actually seen a rise in polls.
“I have respect for all members of this race. I do think I’m the most capable of being leader and prime minister now. I’ve got the right skills from before politics, and in my political career that I think give me the skills and experience needed to be prime minister at a time of crisis for Canada,” he says.
He believes he has seen a lot of support across the country, even in the Maritimes, where MacKay is from.
“We’re growing by the day, and I’m very confident if we keep this up our team will be victorious,” he says.