Erin O’Toole, an Ontario member of Parliament, defeated Conservative heavyweight Peter MacKay and was named leader of the Conservative Party early Monday.
Mr. O’Toole spent 12 years in the military and 10 years as a corporate lawyer. He ran a pointed, message-driven campaign and embraced becoming the inheritor of Stephen Harper’s party. This was Mr. O’Toole’s second time running for leadership of the party; he was defeated in 2017 by Andrew Scheer. Mr. O’Toole won with 57 per cent of the vote on the third ballot. “Today you have given me a clear mission to unite our party, to champion our Conservative principles, to show Canadians what we know so well — that Justin Trudeau and his team are failing our great country,” Mr. O’Toole said in his victory speech shortly after 1:00 a.m. ET.
“We must continue to point out Liberal failings and corruption but we also must show Canadians our vision for a stronger, prosperous and more united Canada,” he said.
After thanking Conservative supporters for electing him as leader, Mr. O’Toole aimed his message at a broader audience, telling viewers that regardless of their background, circumstance or political affiliation, they have a place in the Conservative Party.
“It is time for many Liberal and NDP voters to socially distance themselves from these out of touch parties,” he said, adding that it’s time for more Canadians to consider the Conservative Party again.
Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis, who is relatively new to politics, came third in the race and Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who also had the support of social conservatives, placed fourth.
The leadership results were announced hours later than planned because thousands of ballots had been sliced by a dysfunctional mail-opening machine.
Cory Hann, a spokesperson for the Conservative Party, said the envelope-opening machines sliced through “a few thousand” ballots during the counting process. Volunteers then had to mark the ballots that had been affected as scrutineers from the leadership campaigns kept watch.
The party said it received 174,849 ballots by mail. Party members began counting them early on Sunday morning, and the first round of results was initially scheduled to be revealed around 6:30 p.m. ET, but the time continued to be pushed back.
As the leadership contenders waited to hear the results, Mr. Scheer, in his final speech as outgoing leader, told party members to move past the division of the last 10 months and focus on how to defeat the governing Liberals.
“After tonight, let’s all come together and focus on the things that unite us,” Mr. Scheer said. “We must stay squarely concentrated on working together and focusing on the many things we share in common.”
Mr. MacKay congratulated Mr. O’Toole on a “hard-fought campaign” on Twitter. “It’s now time for our party and movement to come together, and to focus on what’s most important: ensuring our country gets moving in the right direction again,” he wrote.
Suzanne Cowan, president of the Liberal Party, issued a statement congratulating Mr. O’Toole, but also said she hopes he reconsiders continuing to push “the same policies of Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer that he also proposed in the leadership campaign.”
Mr. O’Toole could find himself running to become Prime Minister in a matter of months — if not weeks. As Mr. Trudeau’s minority Liberal government faltered under the weight of the WE Charity controversy and the sudden departure of Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the Prime Minister asked for Parliament to be prorogued until late September. When it returns, the Speech from the Throne will trigger a confidence vote, and depending on the outcome of that vote, possibly a general election.
Even if an election doesn’t come soon, Mr. O’Toole will take the helm during a rocky time in Ottawa. As the governing Liberals turn their attention to economic recovery on the heels of the pandemic lockdowns, the Conservatives will seek to assert themselves as the country’s voice of fiscal discipline.
Mr. O’Toole takes over from Mr. Scheer who was elected in 2017 but failed to defeat Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals in the 2019 election. Mr. Scheer resigned after the disappointing election loss that created division within the party but also after revelations that he used party money to pay for his children’s private school tuition.
Mr. Scheer’s resignation set the leadership race in motion and a contest was officially underway in January, with contestants having until the end of February to enter but also needing to meet criteria set by the party to qualify. Some Conservative heavyweights, including Rona Ambrose and Jean Charest, considered entering the race but ultimately decided against it.
The campaign lasted much longer than anticipated, having been temporarily halted at the end of March because of the pandemic. The race started again in April, with candidates campaigning primarily online and at physically distanced events.
Mr. MacKay and Mr. O’Toole had both been considered the front-runners in the race, based on their profiles and fundraising numbers. However, Conservatives have been surprised by the performance Ms. Lewis — specifically her fundraising prowess. Ms. Lewis, a social conservative, holds a PhD in law and a master’s degree in environmental studies.
Mr. Sloan, the member of Parliament for Hastings-Lennox and Addington in eastern Ontario, courted the fringes of the party during the race. He was known throughout the campaign for making controversial comments. In April, Mr. Sloan refused to apologize after questioning Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam’s loyalty to the country, asking in a Facebook video: “Does she work for Canada or for China?” He later said his comments were “deliberately” mischaracterized by the Liberals.
Mr. MacKay raised more money than his opponents, with nearly $3.1-million in donations. Mr. O’Toole raised $2.5-million, Ms. Lewis’s team said it passed the $2-million mark and Mr. Sloan raised $852,000, according to data from two interim reports filed with Elections Canada earlier this month.
Mr. O’Toole may also find himself preparing for an election in the fall. The fact that the Prime Minister has prorogued Parliament and set a date for a confidence vote after the Throne Speech shows that the Liberals are open to risking an election, according to pollster Nik Nanos.
Mr. Nanos said the Liberal advantage over Conservatives at the height of the pandemic has eroded with the WE Charity controversy and that “anger and pessimism directed against the government in Ottawa is on the rise.” Mr. Nanos said the WE controversy has turned some voters off from even considering voting Liberal.
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