O'Toole looking forward to return to Parliament, readying for the next election
OTTAWA -- New Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says his party will be ready if there is a snap election on the horizon, but offered no indication that his caucus will be the one prompting it.
“If Mr. Trudeau thinks he can play some games with a new leader and force an election, we will be ready,” O’Toole said, framing the possibility of a pandemic election being a move the Liberals “may be trying to trigger,” rather than something the opposition would force.
O’Toole had a phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday. Both sides considered it a cordial conversation, according to their offices, but soon enough the two will be squaring off across the aisle in the House of Commons, or out on the campaign trail depending on how soon the next federal election is called.
While the next election isn’t scheduled until 2023, there have been calls for Trudeau to resign amid the WE Charity controversy and threats levelled by the opposition Bloc Quebecois and Conservatives of advancing a motion of non-confidence in the government.
As a sitting MP, O’Toole has vowed to hold the Liberals to account “on day one,” and says his focus will be on the well-being of Canadians given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, rather than an election.
The shutdown of Parliament for a month stopped a series of committee studies into the ongoing WE Charity student grant controversy, and O’Toole is imploring Trudeau to allow the committees studying the matter to get back to it in short order in the fall.
“I'm here to fight for the well-being of Canadians across the country. And for better solutions, faster responses… and we will assess the government going forward on all those criteria,” O’Toole said. “I will always put the interests of Canadians first and will collaborate when I can.”
With Parliament prorogued until Sept. 23 O’Toole has some time to determine what approach his caucus will take when it comes to what’s shaping up to be at least two confidence votes in quick succession: on the Liberals’ throne speech setting pandemic recovery priorities, and on a new bill to implement billions of dollars in new COVID-19 aid benefits.
If the Liberals lose a confidence vote—which would require the backing of MPs from more than just the Bloc and Conservative caucuses—an early election could be called.
When he prorogued Parliament, Trudeau said that he does not want a general election, shooting down the idea that his move is essentially daring the opposition to vote the Liberal minority down
“We have lots of work ahead of us,” Trudeau said. “We do not want an election.”
In his first press conference since taking the helm of the party O’Toole also spelled out some of his next steps as the leader of the Official Opposition as well as his vision for the country.
Given the prospect of him making his pitch to the country to be the next prime minister sooner rather than later, O’Toole said that Canada needs an ethical government led by someone who isn’t afraid of making difficult decision, one that “cares more about keeping Canadians safe and united, than about his personal image, and the interests of insiders.”
ROLES FOR OPPONENTS?
The newly-chosen frontman of the party also faced questions about what his plans are for his leadership race opponents and their supporters, given uniting his party after a sometimes fractious leadership contest is a priority.
He said that he has already reached out to Peter MacKay and Leslyn Lewis and plans to speak with them on Tuesday about what their involvement will be in the months ahead, while he’s yet to articulate whether Derek Sloan will play a role under his leadership. Over the campaign Sloan’s remarks prompted calls for him to be ousted from caucus.
“A lot of things were said, we're united now, we're going to talk together as a caucus,” O’Toole said. “I have great respect for all my colleagues.”
The Liberals have also revived their calls for O’Toole to oust Sloan, but so far the new leader hasn’t indicated that’s his plan.
He said that his front bench of critics will be revealed soon, and will be an opportunity for him to reshape his roster of prominent MPs, likely rewarding those who backed him in the leadership.
“Our Conservative team has a strong, smart, diverse group that reflects Canada,” O’Toole said. “I'm very excited to meet with my caucus, and talk with all of them about uniting and going forward together. And I'll be doing that in the coming days and weeks.”
In his first day inside the Opposition Leader’s Office, alongside some of his campaign staff, O’Toole spoke to his predecessor Andrew Scheer, who has offered to help ensure a smooth transition.
By day two he had named three senior staff positions: His new Chief of Staff is Tausha Michaud, who formerly served as a senior adviser to O'Toole when he was in Stephen Harper’ cabinet; his campaign manager Fred DeLorey becomes O’Toole’s national campaign manager; and former Conservative MP and Quebec leadership chair Alupa Clarke becomes a senior adviser.
HIS PITCH TO VOTERS
Speaking directly to Canadians, O’Toole repeated much of what was in his first speech as party leader, doubling down on his promise to be open to a wide range of Canadians, pledging to respect the rights of all, while speaking to his “real world” and middle-class experience.
He shot down the suggestion that he’s already moved to abandon the social conservative vote after securing victory with the down-ballot backing of that wing of the party.
“I'm going to be a bit of a sea change for Canadians because, you know what, I respect people, even when I don't agree with them. I won a mandate not hiding my track record… I’m not afraid to fight for things I believe in, and I'm not afraid to respect people that have another point of view. That is why the Conservatives can win, when we respect one another in our coalition,” he said.
O’Toole’s Tuesday remarks also made specific emphasis on the issue of Western alienation. With a strong showing of voter support in the Prairie provinces, the new Conservative leader is calling for immediate action to address the ongoing regional tensions.
He also said that he’s spoken with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Ontario Premier Doug Ford. He also has plans to soon meet with Quebec Premier Francois Legualt.
“In the coming weeks you'll also be hearing a lot of Liberal spin about me, in fact, it's already started. Don't buy it. Here's all you need to know about me: I'm here to fight for you and your family, and Canada needs a fighter,” O’Toole said.