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O’Toole Takes Conservative Helm after Gong Show Vote Count

MacKay’s comeback falls short as party members stick to social conservative, Harper-era course.

“Good morning, I’m Erin O’Toole. I’m here to fight for you.”

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It was second time lucky for O’Toole Sunday, as the former Harper cabinet minister and 2017 leadership candidate won the Conservative party’s top job on the third ballot.

In his brief acceptance speech, delivered around 1 a.m. after a problem-plagued ballot counting process, O’Toole was quick to beat the war drums, accusing Justin Trudeau of weakening Canada and promising to defeat him in the next election.

“The world still needs more Canada, it just needs less Justin Trudeau,” said O’Toole, a former corporate lawyer and MP for a southern Ontario riding since 2012.

Sounding like an echo from the Harper era, O’Toole charged that Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh were failing working families. Then, stealing a line from Trudeau himself, the new leader said he would earn back respect for Canada on the world stage.

In the celebrations following the announcement of O’Toole’s victory there was an outpouring of support for the new leader. There were lots of hugs and handshakes on stage, but not much evidence of social distancing or masks.

Several prominent Conservatives, including former prime minister Stephen Harper and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted out congratulations to the new leader. O’Toole kicked off his campaign in Alberta last January, and handily won the province.

Peter MacKay congratulated O’Toole and vowed to build the party with him. But the final ballot verdict — 57 per cent for O’Toole and 43 per cent for MacKay — was a crushing defeat for the Conservative party co-founder, who was considered the favourite to replace outgoing leader Andrew Scheer. MacKay lost Quebec to O’Toole, partly because of a very poor showing in the French language debate.

And a MacKay wave never really materialized in his native Maritime provinces or vote-rich Ontario, although his campaign raised the most money and he had national name recognition. The campaign’s early months revealed the political rust that had built up since MacKay decided not to run in the 2015 election.

The surprise of the night was the strong showing by political rookie Leslyn Lewis. Lewis, a lawyer and social conservative, won 21 per cent of the support on the first count and 30 per cent on the second before being dropped. She performed well across the country and is certain to be a key player as the party prepares for the next election.

In one of the most inept leadership conventions on record, the party missed newspaper and broadcast deadlines because it couldn’t properly open the envelopes that held the ballots — hardly building confidence in the Conservatives’ claim they can rebuild the Canadian economy.

In a race that had 269,000 eligible voters, 175,000 Conservatives cast their ballots on a ranked basis. But it took the party five hours longer than planned even to come up with a first ballot result. By the time the result was announced around 1 a.m., most people were not awake to hear O’Toole’s victory speech.

The enduring takeaway from MacKay’s poor showing is…

Michael Harris

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