Erin O’Toole beat out Peter Mackay, the front runner, to claim the crown and leadership of the federal Tory Party this weekend.
O’Toole won by portraying himself as a more right wing Tory than the moderate approach of Mackay, and by a huge influx of votes from socially conservative members of the party. The win was clear and decisive and likely to leave no bad blood. Party disunity is unlikely, although moderates are likely to be disheartened by the continued inability of any candidate to win without the kingmaker votes of social Conservatives. Despite their political edge, Social Conservatives are never satisfied by government policy for the purposes of staying popular with the ‘mainstream’, and so a strange and repetitive political cycle continues to play out.
O’Toole is the son of former Ontario PC MPP John O’Toole, a well liked and uncontroversial politician from the Mike Harris and Tim Hudak era of the party. He is a veteran and former officer, having graduated from the Royal Military College and having served as a pilot. After completing a law degree at Dalhousie, O’Toole had a successful career as a corporate lawyer. He entered Federal politics in the Harper era, and had a brief stint as Minister for Veterans Affairs. O’Toole is the father of two children, 47 years old, and is the first GTA based Tory leader in many, many decades. At heart, he is a political moderate – he does not have a record espousing any particularly hard right beliefs and has avoided controversy.
O’Toole will likely face an election in the next 12-24 months, or perhaps sooner. To the Liberal Party, O’Toole will appear to be the less dynamic, less attractive, and less appealing leadership contender, especially to younger women and millenials. While the Liberal brand has been battered, the Prime Minister is still liked a big chunk of the electorate and has the fiscal firepower to boost his party’s fortuned in the event of an election. The Liberal Party will also likely claim to be a steady and compassionate hand in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic than a blue blooded fiscal conservative. The timing of the election will be interesting, as will be the future platform and policy positioning of O’Toole. Either way, he should not be underestimated, this is a decorated, hard working military officer with a robust professional background and plenty of political smarts.