The Morning Brief – 09.02.20

By Bruce Carson


Erin O’Toole—A Campaign Structured to gain vital down ballot support

Getting Organized

Preparing for the Games that have already Begun

Compared with most winning percentages in political leadership races, Erin O’Toole’s 57% on the third ballot was decisive. Even though the process was laborious and fraught with difficulty, there were no calls for recounts and if anyone thought about calling in the lawyers, that didn’t happen.

However, the job that O’Toole secured, leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is without doubt one of the most difficult jobs in Canadian politics, the only one perhaps worse, might be spouse of the leader of the opposition. The person serving in the latter role gets to absorb the criticism, without the opportunity to strike back.

O’Toole will soon find out, if he hasn’t already that everyone in caucus has an opinion or two on all the issues of the day and not shy about sharing those opinions. He will also find that virtually every caucus member believes she or he is better at communicating ideas than the leader and certainly better than the leader’s communication staff.

So the new leader will never lack for advice on any matter and that advice will be willingly shared.

The pluses to the job are that the leader and his shadow cabinet and caucus have in the situation they find themselves in, a real opportunity to influence public policy and form a government. As Derek Burney, Prime Minister Mulroney’s former chief of staff and Canada’s former Ambassador to the United States points out in his most recent article that “the government has lost its lustre; stale, bereft of fresh talent, running on aspirational fumes from 2015.” Burney adds that the Trudeau government has “no sturdy prescriptions for post COVID recovery.”

A real opportunity is ready to be seized.

The speech given by O’Toole in the early hours of Monday, August 24 plus the one he opened his press conference on Tuesday with are helpful as O’Toole attempts to define himself and his agenda.

He began by saying I am here to fight for you and your family and then made it clear that he and his family lead a middle class life with all of the concerns and worries that trouble Canadians such as health care, child care and education.

On the future he said he is concerned about jobs and investment leaving Canada.

On the future of the Conservative party itself he recognized that Canadians need to see themselves in the party and it will provide a home for them. It is a political party “open to all” underlining that he is pro-choice on the matter of abortion and endorses and supports the hard fought for rights of the LGBTQ2S community. This view is held regardless of where his support for his victory came from. However, he did say that he will treat all members of the party with respect. He said he is “not afraid to respect people with another point of view.”

This may get him through the early days of his leadership, but he will be peppered with questions as to how he will deal with private members bills that take away rights and he will have to be prepared for Liberals and Bloc and NDP members to define him as scary, ready to take rights away.

He has also stated that the party can’t run a winning election campaign by simply characterizing Trudeau as corrupt. If that was a successful strategy, the 2019 election would have had a far different outcome. There must be imaginative policies put in the window for people to see themselves in, support and vote for.

There are two main issues that will occupy Canadians over at least the next few months, if not until this time next year; first, health care recovering from the pandemic and/or preparing for the next waive and second, the economy and the availability of jobs.

John Ibbitson of the Globe wrote about focusing “on protecting health and jobs of frightened Canadians.” It is Ibbitson’s view that everything else is a distraction. He believes the ballot box question in the next election will be which party can best deal with COVID and the economy.

If this is correct then O’Toole can expand to include mental health and include his views on the environment and climate change and the necessity of technological solutions. He also has a great opportunity to move the party into the space that Trudeau has tried unsuccessfully to occupy, reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people through emphasizing education and entrepreneurial opportunities on reserves. O’Toole’s tough stance on China will be a welcome change from that offered from the Trudeau government.

When constructing the party’s election platform, a task in a minority government which now should be well underway, O’Toole must realize that he can’t out promise or out spend Trudeau but he can promise better and spend where it will matter most to Canadians, eschewing vanity projects.

The platform must be broad based with the party appealing to Canadians who are not in the Conservative tent, those who can bring support up beyond 30% base. The election will be won or lost in seat rich Ontario and Quebec, but O’Toole cannot afford to neglect Western Canada which now forms the party’s base of support, as the Wexit Party is ready to move in.

As we approach September 23, the Speech from the Throne, O’Toole can count on Trudeau to play the fear card; it worked for Paul Martin in 2004 and could again if the Conservative Party is not ready to deal with it. Fear will come in the threat that O’Toole proposes to take away minority rights.

It will also come in the threat that if the Conservatives vote against the Speech from the Throne, Canadians will lose all the promised goodies and the transformation from CERB to EI will not be complete so support will not be forthcoming for those who need it during the election period. This is the situation that prorogation has created.

But before we get to that point, there are a number of housekeeping issues that need to be addressed as pointed out by former Prime Minister Mulroney after O’Toole became leader. By this time O’Toole should have a clear view as to who will fill the roles of House Leader, Whip etc. He should also know who is to be deputy leader and who will fill shadow cabinet positions. Mulroney’s advice was to fill them with more than O’Toole supporters.

After the 2004 election Stephen Harper created a position for Josee Verner in his office, and in the shadow cabinet, as she, while not elected in Quebec, had received the most votes of any Conservative running in Quebec. O’Toole may wan t to consider doing something similar for Leslyn Lewis.

As noted above, there is a real opportunity to be seized with the right team and policies  broadening  the reach of the Conservative Party.

To Come

September 3
  • International trade numbers for July to be released
September 4
  • Job numbers for August to be released
September 9
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates
September 14
  • New Brunswick provincial election