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Erin O'Toole, Conservative candidate for the riding of Durham.

When they lost their MP in Durham to a spending scandal, the federal Conservatives needed somebody with serious drawing power to ensure that the riding did not slip hands from their hands. They found that in Erin O'Toole.

Before he was Bay Street lawyer, Mr. O'Toole was a member of the Canadian Forces, where he flew helicopter rescue missions on the East Coast. The combination of military service and legal training makes him a strong candidate for future front bench positions in the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It also provided some assurance to the Conservatives who, faced with stiff competition in Calgary and a losing proposition in Victoria, needed to keep a lock on the central Ontario riding they had held since Bev Oda took it away from the Liberals in 2004 – two years before Mr. Harper's Conservative party won its first minority government.

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Ms. Oda's departure, which was prompted by her removal from cabinet over what was deemed to be extravagant spending, could have soured voters against the Conservatives had the party not found a strong candidate to replace her.

Late Monday evening, Mr. O'Toole stood with his wife and young daughter and thanked the supporters who packed into a Legion hall to celebrate his victory. Mr. O'Toole said Ms. Oda's spending controversies weren't a major concern for voters he met while campaigning.

"That came up less and less as we got our message out and as people got to know me as a candidate and realized I'm from this community," he said.

A graduate of the Royal Military College, Mr. O'Toole was trained as an air navigator and helicopter pilot. He was in a chopper that responded to the crash of Swiss Air Flight 111 and he was a captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Then he turned to a legal career doing work on files such as energy regulation. At the time he opted to try his hand at politics, Mr. O'Toole was a lawyer working for the firm of Heenan Blaikie which employs former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

He has also been active in charitable endeavours and is a founder on the True Patriot Love Foundation which has raised more than $10-million for programs for members of the military, veterans and their families.

So it was with no small amount of indignation that the Conservatives watched Grant Humes, the Liberal challenger in Durham, erect signs that were a direct attack at the government for its alleged mistreatment of veterans. The Tories accused Mr. Humes of using veterans as political fodder and demanded that he apologize.

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The Conservatives felt in the final days of the campaign that they had done enough to discredit Mr. Humes and that his support was slipping. And, in the end, they may have been right. Mr. Humes ran third behind Mr. O'Toole and Larry O'Connor of the NDP.

With a report from the Canadian Press

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