Trying to woo his party’s Western base, Ontario MP Erin O’Toole officially launched his bid for Conservative leader in Calgary on Monday.
Mr. O’Toole, who is positioning himself as the “true blue" candidate in the race, is considered the main challenger to former cabinet minister Peter MacKay. Both are rooted in Eastern Canada and, in the face of intense economic anxiety in Canada’s oil-rich Prairie provinces, the Conservatives are looking at the prospect of a leadership race with no prominent voices from the Tory heartland.
To bolster his chances in the West, Mr. O’Toole launched his campaign there, spending the day in meetings with Conservatives, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and holding a campaign event in the evening.
“I want Albertans to know they will have a champion in Erin O’Toole," the leadership hopeful told Global News Radio, in an interview with former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith.
For the rest of the country, Mr. O’Toole released a video, highlighting his priorities and Conservative credentials, including defending traditional industries and warding off attacks against Canada’s history from "cancel culture and the radical left.”
Mr. O’Toole’s pitch to Tories is that he can both unite the party and appeal to suburban and urban voters – a demographic with which the party struggled to connect in the 2019 election.
Mr. O’Toole, who did not hold a traditional media availability for his campaign launch, served in the Canadian military for 12 years before moving to the private sector to work as a lawyer. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 2012.
Fellow Ontario Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu also set her leadership bid into motion on Monday, by submitting her application to enter the party’s race.
Ms. Gladu said the party needs a strong leader who can expand the base and provide a “better balance in our policy of fiscal responsibility and social compassion.” She called herself a Red Tory but added “there’s no doubt” she’s a Conservative because of her fiscal policies.
Mr. O’Toole’s leadership launch comes on the heels of Mr. MacKay’s Saturday event, which prompted questions about the former Progressive Conservative Party leader’s competence in French. Le Journal de Montréal pointed out three grammatical errors that Mr. MacKay made in the span of four words in his first campaign speech.
But Quebec Conservative MPs, who have endorsed Mr. MacKay, came to his defence Monday, arguing he will improve with practice and that his French is better than what was on display Saturday.
“I know it’s better than that,” MP Pierre Paul-Hus said Monday, calling the French in Mr. MacKay’s launch speech “very strange.”
While the race has no prominent Westerner, it also lacks any fully bilingual candidates, and the only contestant who hails from Quebec is a little-known social conservative. While being perfectly bilingual isn’t the bar, Daniel Béland, the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said being able to express yourself in both languages is. He noted that neither prime ministers Jean Chrétien or Stephen Harper were perfectly bilingual.
He said the requirement stretches beyond Quebec’s borders, not just because of Acadians and francophones who live in other regions, but because voters generally expect it in their federal leaders.
“It’s not just about Quebec; it’s about the image of a leader who can win all across the country," Prof. Béland said.
Conservatives are set to pick their next leader, to replace Andrew Scheer, at a convention in Toronto on June 27.