Newly elected Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Tuesday that as leader, and as a prime minister, he will stand up for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, and he intends to apply that fighting spirit to all his files.
His comments came in his first news conference after winning the race early Monday morning, a victory owed in part to thousands of supporters of avowed social conservative candidates. Those party members backed O’Toole as their third choice, after he promised to always respect their concerns.
The Liberals wasted little time accusing him of being in the pocket of that constituency, suggesting Tuesday he’s going to have to prove that’s not the case by kicking one of those candidates — Ontario MP Derek Sloan — out of caucus.
During the race, Sloan had spoken aggressively about the chief public health officer, as well as abortion and LGBTQ conversion therapy. The language he used to discuss those issues was widely condemned as being racist and bigoted, which he denies.
O’Toole appeared to chalk Sloan’s rhetoric up to a heated leadership race, and said he is part of a united team.
No one should buy the Liberal spin, he said.
“I won the leadership of the Conservative party as a pro-choice Conservative MP, one that won with a strong mandate,” he said.
“That’s how I’m going to lead as the leader of the Opposition and that’s how I’ll be as prime minister. I’m in politics to defend the rights of Canadians to secure a brighter future.”
In remarks to his supporters posted to social media, Sloan said he intends to remain a member of the caucus. He also vowed not to give up.
“I will always stand up for the principles and the values that I ran on in this campaign and I won’t back down,” he said.
“I’ll be sure to share my views with the new leader and I’m confident he’ll listen.”
O’Toole was also set to speak Tuesday with his two other challengers in the race, Leslyn Lewis and Peter MacKay.
Reaching out to them, and their supporters, is part of building his team to both guide the party in the House of Commons, but also in the next campaign.
Lewis will run as Conservative candidate in the next election.
The party will be ready for the next campaign whenever it comes, O’Toole said.
But he doesn’t necessarily intend to be the one to force an election in the confidence vote that will take place after the Liberals’ speech from the throne next month.
“I’m here to fight for the well-being of Canadians across the country and for better solutions, faster responses and excellence in government, and ethical government,” he said.
“We will assess the government going forward on all those criteria.”
O’Toole has already spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, where western alienation was a topic he brought up off the top. The issue is of primary concern to Conservatives in the West who are watching O’Toole closely on the file.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who had endorsed O’Toole, said Tuesday he also spoke with him for half an hour.
He said O’Toole has proven in the past he’s an ally for the West and will do so in the future, pointing to a commitment in O’Toole’s platform for legislation specifically to encourage the building of oil pipelines.
“I have great confidence in his ability, his wisdom, and his total dedication for fairness for Alberta and a strong future for our resource industries.”
O’Toole also intends to meet personally with Quebec Premier Francois Legault in the coming days. Shoring up support in that province is a perennial issue for the party.
Among the leadership contenders, O’Toole handily won Quebec and on Tuesday, named former Quebec MP Alupa Clarke, who chaired his campaign in that province, as a special adviser.
Fred DeLorey, who ran O’Toole’s campaign overall, has also been named the manager of the next national election campaign.
The party also has a new executive director. It has also decided to no longer apply for the federal wage subsidy program. Its earlier choice to do so had been widely criticized by some grassroots members who felt it inappropriate for a political organization to be using the COVID-19 support program.
The leadership race was all about testing the preferences of the party’s grassroots and O’Toole’s task now is to read the tea leaves to figure out the path forward.
A strong signal was also sent by those who backed Lewis.
Lewis entered the campaign a relative unknown, but her efforts gained enough traction to see her finish with a strong third-place showing.
One element that helped propel Lewis forward was the fact she was clear on her social conservative views, and what she would do about it if she had won.
Former leader Andrew Scheer had faltered on that score on the campaign trail and it cost the party in the last federal election.
When asked Tuesday how else he’d be different from Scheer, O’Toole was blunt.
“I have a track record of serving Canada and getting things done,” he said.
“That’s why I’m not famous, I’m not well known. I get things done, I don’t drop the ball.”
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
© The Canadian Press