O’Toole’s election gamble -- swinging Tories to the centre

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Four days before the Canadian election, Steven Loughnan drove 90 minutes from his home in Prospect Village, N.S., to Truro just to hear Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole speak.

After the rally at the local farmer’s market, the self-identified red Tory Loughnan said it was worth the trip because of where O’Toole is taking the party.

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“It’s a different party than it was when Stephen Harper was prime minister, and I think that Mr. O’Toole is a realist,” Loughnan told Global News.

Loughnan says he considered leaving the party last March when delegates at the party’s convention rejected enshrining climate change in the official Conservative party policy.

“You know, you don’t have to think too hard to realize that climate change is real, and you’ll hear that from Mr. O’Toole,” said Loughnan.

In his nearly 13 months as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Erin O’Toole has steered the Tories more towards the center of the political spectrum, with what many see as more progressive policies, than his predecessors.

“The centre is where the path to power is. Whoever can have the center, and the Liberals have gone try to be more left than the NDP, in my opinion. And the Conservatives are in the center-right now,” said Tony Lipiec after a rally in St. Catharines, ON., Friday evening.

Lipiec is impressed not only by O’Toole as a person but also by his policies.

“(O’Toole) came up with a plan and it’s not just throwing money out and that’s the main thing. It’s actually, you’re going to have a plan, a logical plan,” said Lipiec.

O’Toole calls himself a “true blue” conservative, but in his leadership victory speech, he made a direct appeal to Indigenous, LGBTQ2 and racialized Canadians to see themselves reflected in his party.

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“I know some of you may be hesitant because of things you may have heard or impressions that are a little out of date,” O’Toole said in a speech in Saguenay Quebec five days before the election.

O’Toole has even been saying this isn’t your grandfather’s Conservative Party — while getting an endorsement from the grandfather of Canadian conservatism, former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

“The fact that he got Brian Mulroney out on the campaign trail for the first time since Brian Mulroney last campaigned to be prime minister says something to the appeal that O’Toole has to different sections, not just of the Conservative Party, but other Canadians,” said Tim Powers, chairman of Summa Strategies.

Powers believes Conservative parties that win government are parties that change in form and sometimes structure from previous iterations.

“I think if Mr. O’Toole had more time before this election, he may have pushed more aggressively the Conservative Party to a center-right position,” Powers told Global News in an interview.

The question now is how much time will he have after the election if the Conservatives don’t form government. Andrew Scheer was quickly ousted as leader in 2019 after he helped reduce the Liberals to a minority government.

On the eve of the election, there are no rumblings of O’Toole suffering the same fate, but there is concern that if he does lose, the progress will be lost too.

“If he doesn’t win Monday, I would hate to see the Conservative Party take steps backward and attribute any loss to the positions he took,” said Powers.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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