CALGARY — Erin O’Toole, a former Canadian Armed Forces airman, entered the Conservative leadership race on Monday taking a shot at one of his main rivals.
O’Toole positioned himself as a true Conservative compared to Peter MacKay, who he said will turn the Tories into a “Liberal-party lite.”
“That’s not how we will win,” O’Toole said in an interview.
O’Toole announced he was entering the race on Monday by video, joining up as a presumptive front-runner alongside MacKay, a former Nova Scotia MP. While describing MacKay as a friend, O’Toole attacked the former cabinet minister’s politics, saying he’d make the Conservative Party of Canada more centrist as a member of the “left side” of the Tory movement.
In a party that’s been fractured over its identity — there has already been controversy over the role of social conservatism — O’Toole is billing himself as a “true blue” conservative.
“Do we go back and be the mushy middle party?” asked O’Toole. “Or do we have conservative, principled ideas for all the issues of the day, from the economy, from foreign policy, defence, security, that’s the choice.”
O’Toole, who met with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Calgary on Monday, also ran in the 2017 leadership race. His supporters ended up being key to Andrew Scheer’s victory over Maxime Bernier.
In the announcement video, O’Toole promised to defend Canadian history and institutions as footage showed a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald being removed by a crane.
“I’ve been standing up against what I call the ‘virtue signalling’ from Justin Trudeau which actually ignores the real challenges of the day and offers symbolic gestures as a substitute,” O’Toole said.
In his interview with the Post, O’Toole said he is a strong supporter of western issues, with concerns about the resource economy and pipeline projects. But, he noted, the Conservatives can’t bank solely on the west to be the base of power since there are “no more seats to win in Saskatchewan,” and only one in Edmonton. The Conservatives, under Scheer’s leadership, won all seats in Saskatchewan, all but one in Alberta and half the seats in Manitoba.
But “we got shut out, virtually, in southern Ontario,” said O’Toole, whose riding is Durham, Ont. “My province needs to understand that Alberta’s issues are national issues.”
He said he sees himself as the leader for the party that can bridge the gap between western issues while making in-roads in Ontario. His success, he said, comes from principled conservative ideas and experience in the private sector and military.
“I’m known as a small-c conservative, “ he said. “This is really a struggle for the identity of the Conservative party in 2020.”
My province needs to understand that Alberta’s issues are national issue
He said Canada needs to restore its competitive advantage. Any economic gains in recent years are because of good policy during the years Stephen Harper was prime minister and the Canadian economy being bolstered by a strong American economy. Canada is not seen as competitive, he said.
“We’re seen, quite frankly, as government led by the editorial board of the Toronto Star,” O’Toole added.
The field of contenders who have announced they are running include: MacKay, O’Toole, Ontario MPs Marilyn Gladu and Derek Sloan, Richard Décarie, a former Conservative staffer and social conservative, and Alberta businessman Rick Peterson. Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner hasn’t ruled out a run and Candice Bergen, a Manitoba MP, is also considering entering the race.
“We often say conservatives come in after a period of Liberal mess, I just don’t want them to make much more of a mess than they’ve already made,” said O’Toole.
— With files from Brian Platt and The Canadian Press
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