He is bullish on immigration, especially through reuniting families. He would end the ban on blood donations from gay men. He’s prepared to take a decade to balance the budget. He actually understands and cares about foreign policy.
Erin O’Toole is unlike any Conservative leader you have seen.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail’s Bill Curry and Janice Dickson, Mr. O’Toole laid out his priorities should the Conservatives form the government after an election that could come as early as this fall.
Such an election could catch the Conservatives unprepared – recovering from a gruelling leadership race and without a team or platform fully in place.
The Tories would, however, have one vital asset. Over the past 10 days, Mr. O’Toole has successfully presented himself as a confident Leader of the Opposition and prime minister-in-waiting.
He is a rare example of a Conservative MP who has repeatedly won re-election in the 905, the swath of suburban ridings surrounding Toronto, named after its area code. Many of those ridings have large numbers of immigrants, and immigration was a topic Mr. O’Toole discussed at length.
“I have fought back against voices out there that want to curtail immigration, because immigration is critical to our success,” he said.
While Conservatives typically support recruiting new Canadians from the economic stream, to fill labour shortages and drive entrepreneurship, Mr. O’Toole focused on the family reunification stream.
Many conservatives resist bringing in relatives, who can be a burden on social services. But at a time when schools and daycares are disrupted, limiting parents’ ability to work, relatives can be a resource that family reunification can bolster, Mr. O’Toole said. “We should accelerate it if it allows the family to keep their business operating.”
This will go down well with suburban immigrants hoping to bring over parents and other relatives. And it comports with a key element of the social-conservative gospel: promoting healthy families as the foundation of a secure society.
Mr. O’Toole sought to lay to rest the bugbear that Conservatives are socially intolerant by saying his government would fully lift the ban on sexually active gay men donating blood, something the Trudeau government is not yet prepared to do.
He clearly detests the Liberal preference for re-engineering the Canadian economy through targeted investments in green and high technology, which is expected to be a major feature of the Sept. 23 Throne Speech.
The priority, he said, is to create jobs, and “I don’t mind if that job is in the oil and gas sector, forestry, manufacturing, a startup,” he said. “We can’t pick or choose what part of our economy Ottawa likes.” For Mr. O’Toole, that means creating jobs by fostering a climate that encourages private-sector investment.
But he believes it will take a decade to bring the COVID-19-induced deficit, which is headed toward $400-billion this fiscal year, back into balance. Critics will say that a 10-year plan to balance the budget is no plan at all. The most likely difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives on deficits will be that the Conservatives worry about them and the Liberals don’t.
Mr. O’Toole also speaks with authority on strengthening traditional alliances, placing less faith in the United Nations and confronting China. If elected, he would be the first prime minister who served in the military since John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson, who both volunteered during the First World War, and would bring a genuine depth of knowledge to defence and foreign affairs.
There are weaknesses, some major: Mr. O’Toole is yet another charisma-challenged federal Conservative Leader who most Canadians know little about. With mediocre French, he will have a hard time improving the party’s standing in Quebec.
Most important, while he insists it is possible to develop resources while meeting Canada’s commitment to fight global warming, he has no credible plan to do so.
But Mr. O’Toole is successfully presenting himself as someone who understands the concerns of suburban Canadians in this time of pandemic. He has experience in government, having served as veterans affairs minister in the last Harper administration.
Most important, he is a man comfortable in his own skin, confident that he can take Canada where he thinks it needs to go. The next election, whenever it comes, will be interesting.
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