The reflexive, dismissive take among many federal Liberals would be to suggest that new Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is an avatar for social conservatives who want to reopen the debate on abortion, let loose the gun-toters, savage the safety net, kill the CBC, rescind the media tax help and create an antediluvian apparatus of minimal public service.
Look at yourselves, too.
The Liberals are about to take a very sharp left turn into Greenland via Freeland, with new finance and fix-it minister Chrystia promising a plush investment into an environmentally-eyed economy that we might need and want but is not yet there to capitalize upon. Nice to-do in 2025, so long as she doesn’t forget 2020 or 2021.
This offers the stuff of dreams for an election campaign.
O’Toole is deceptive packaging: a sheep in wolf’s clothing in the leadership campaign, but a Bay Street moderate Ontarian lawyer who embraces Quebec, understands Alberta and knows the calculation necessary in a coalition to create a national government.
What he said in averting the anticipated Peter MacKay victory – like all things said in party leadership quests – neither enables nor inhibits what he will say to seek the national leadership. Which is saying: don’t believe what you’ve just heard, only what you will hear – and only until the election is done.
If you were to evidence-base your assessment on statements, though, O’Toole is not controversial once the cloak of that leadership campaign is shed. He staked positions long ago that would station him centrally. Mainly, his environmental folder stands off from much of the Liberal filing cabinet, so that is where the governing party appears eager to stake the election.
And, look, yes, he looks a bit on the aged side against Justin Trudeau, even though he is younger. He can’t grow his hair long, or much at all, a beard probably isn’t in the cards, and his fashion sense feels off the rack and not easily tailored. Does that matter, really?
Image-obsessed Trudeau is a hot mess right now in the final stages of earning the coronavirus bump in popularity. He took too long to help, overspent when he did, entangled himself in that ridiculous WE Charity charade, sacked a fiscal conservative finance minister who likely kept an extra zero off the end of each cheque, then ducked out and prorogued Parliament when we needed it most to resolve our sense of scandal and inspire a recovery plan.
Politicians ought to be in their chambers and not in their cabins, debating and not departing, and certainly not pretending time was needed to prepare a speech from the throne when really it was because procedure was needed to suffocate the committee investigation of the WE spree.
This, while we face a mugging of the wage subsidy and a world of hurt in bankruptcies and job-hunting as the country’s pandemic protracts. The pandemic is sapping all our stamina, and you have to wonder how long Trudeau wants to stay when he downs tools when the stove’s burner is on high.
If O’Toole has the chutzpah, he will play the wild card from the deck and bring on an election when the confidence vote arrives next month. The parties are about six points apart. (The NDP must fear the longer they support Trudeau in a minority Parliament, the less they remain influential.) O’Toole wouldn’t lose his leadership if he loses this soon, and if he manufactures a better recovery plan than what the Liberals propose, he will be prime minister. A good urban plan, for instance, might secure a seat or two in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where the party is in absentia.
O’Toole has a window here. Trudeau has inadvertently, and accidentally, provided it.
Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and the vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.