O’Toole wins leadership; now he walks the tightrope

Some say Conservative leader Erin O'Toole will govern more to fiscally conservative side.

Carolyn Grant mug

Carolyn Grant mug

Now that we’ve had a week to let the news of the Conservative Leadership race settle in, let’s take Erin O’Toole out for a spin and see what comes up.

Kick the tires so to speak.

I must admit to being slightly surprised by the result of the race. I honestly thought Peter MacKay had it in the bag. Which goes to show what I know.

But in the early hours of Monday, August 24, 2020, due to glitches with the ballots (the device that opened them was apparently trying to devour them as well) O’Toole was announced leader with 57 per cent on the third ballot. MacKay took 43 per cent. O’Toole won by gaining votes from supporters of the surprisingly strong Leslyn Lewis after she dropped out subsequent to the second ballot.

What will be interesting to watch now is how O’Toole deals with issues close to the heart of social conservatives. He certainly — I won’t say pandered — but appealed at least, to those in the party with definite opinions on abortion, LGBTQ rights and even gay conversion therapy, during the campaign.

Both Lewis and Derek Sloan are social conservatives, and they took 40 per cent of the votes cast in the race. So, there is a significant portion of the conservative party who want these issues to be at least debated publicly.

Yet at the same time, O’Toole styles himself as pro-choice and an LGBTQ advocate. He also acknowledges that the Conservatives must broaden their base. They must win the hearts and minds of at least some of the some 60 per cent of Canadians who lean left, or at least centre. And with Trudeau and the Liberals reeling, there could very well be some centre leaning Canadians who would be willing to take a look at O’Toole and the Conservatives. But will they if they jump parties think there is any possibility of an anti-abortion statement going into the Conservative platform? Or gay conversion therapy? Or anti-LGBTQ?

There are those who believe that O’Toole was playing an old political game during the race, and he will govern more to fiscally conservative side.

Similar to the United States, where Democrats tend to lean more to the left wings of the party during primaries, as Republicans pander to the right, once a candidate is selected, they veer back to centre. Well, some of them do.

A cynic could say that O’Toole made himself appear sympathetic to social conservatives, while he has every intention of governing in the manner of Stephen Harper. Harper, while he garnered support from social conservatives, stayed far away from ever affording them an opportunity to put any type of that legislation forward or anything into the party platform. Of course, Harper was from the west, a distinct advantage in gaining support from social conservatives without actually granting any of their wishes.

The game O’Toole has to play is a bit trickier. Appeal to the centre while doing enough for social conservatives to keep their support.

He’ll be walking a tightrope. And he hasn’t got a lot of time. Trudeau’s government will fall sometime in the next eight months or so. Will it be this fall? Or will it be next spring? O’Toole will have a lot to do with that decision. I’m betting he’ll want to settle in a bit before he makes his move. In that time, he must convince social conservatives he is hearing them while at the same time convincing centre-leaning Canadians to take a chance on him. We’re quickly going to find out how politically talented Erin O’Toole is.

Carolyn Grant is editor for the Kimberley Bulletin.

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