Column like I see 'em - Do Conservatives have the O’Tooles to get the job done?


By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

The Conservative Party of Canada has a brand new leader and he is the absolute perfect choice…for people who always vote Conservative. But what about everyone else across this fractured little nation of ours? How is Erin O’Toole going to sway all those undecided voters, frustrated former Trudeaumaniacs and lapse Conservatives to back them to Tory glory?

Getting to know your O’Toole

A solid selling point for O’Toole is, quite simply, his impressive and enviable resume. The 47-year-old M.P. for Durham, Ont. is a former Royal Canadian Air Force officer, who worked as a tactical navigator in search and rescue missions. After 12 years of service, O’Toole went to Dalhousie University and completed his law degree, while still in the Reserves. That’s the type of “‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” story former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was never able to cultivate for himself. And it’s most certainly the polar opposite of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose childhood was one of privilege within a Canadian political dynasty.  One political leader figuratively worked his hands to the bone to get where he is today, while the other worked his father’s name to the bone.

‘Take Canada back’ or ‘Liberal-lite’?

Erin O’Toole’s intelligence and work ethic should have me excited about the future outlook of the Conservative Party in Canada… So why aren’t I? Why do I still feel a sense of unease, as I did when Scheer was at the helm? I think it’s due to still being unsure of what version of Erin O’Toole will ultimately lead the party.

Will it be the long-time Ontario M.P., who was viewed by many compatriots on Parliament Hill as a moderate conservative, whose efforts were focused on being a consensus builder?  A man who has previously proclaimed himself pro-choice and a defender of women’s, LGBTQ and other minority rights? That guy was great… but that guy also had his butt handed to him in the 2017 Conservative leadership race by Andrew Scheer and Maxine Bernier.

Or will the version of O’Toole we see moving ahead be the one whose 2020 leadership campaign was designed to appeal to the strong socially conservative base of the party? Will that make him beholden to that portion of the party?

Is O’Toole a right-winger who promised to “Take Canada back”, or is he, as Maxime Bernier called him recently, ‘Liberal-lite.’

A narrow path

This duality could end up being the downfall for O’Toole, as it was for Andrew Scheer. The modern day Conservative Party’s foundation feels as though it’s built upon a very socially conservative base and as much as that base might not want to believe it, that makes for a narrow path to victory in a general election. Most Canadians are not as supportive of reexamining social issues as the Tory kingmakers are. That’ll create a challenge for O’Toole, as he will have to find a way to appeal to a broader electorate that is far less conservative than the membership that made him leader. No man can serve two masters and Erin O’Toole may ultimately have to choose one at the cost of the other. Only time will tell if that results in Tory glory or if we all just meet back here again in three years and try once more to find the next great blue Conservative hope.

Disclaimer: Column like I see ‘em is a monthly opinion column for the Neepawa Banner & Press. The views expressed are the writer’s and are not to be taken as being the view of the  Banner & Press.