To put Trudeau down, the conservative leader is looking for middle ground

The TORONTO man who could oust Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from power a year ago advertised himself as a “true blue conservative”. He became a conservative party leader with a promise to “take back Canada” – and almost immediately began working to modernize the party by pushing it towards the political center.

O’Toole’s strategy, which has included relinquishing positions held by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, arms and balanced budgets, is designed to appeal to a wider cross-section of voters in a country that tends to be much more liberal than its southern neighbor. Whether moderate Canadians believe that O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims and whether it has foreign conservatives has become central issues in the election campaign.

“He has distanced himself from being a Conservative,” said Jenni Byrne, who served as campaign manager and deputy chief of staff to former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “He distanced himself not only from the Harper years but from the leadership campaign he ran less than two years ago.”

Byrne calls it a gamble and a mistake.

“There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm everywhere,” Byrne said.

“In principle, he reflects Liberal politics instead of previous conservative policies. There is no evidence that it actually worked and got the Conservatives elected. And there is no evidence that it has helped Erin. ”

John Baird, a former Conservative foreign minister, said he did not want to comment on whether he thinks O’Toole is taking the party in the right direction. But Baird said that O’Toole is the opposite of Trudeau, who made the cover of Rolling Stone and appeared in Vogue.

“He’s not sizzle, he’s the steak,” Baird said of the leader of the Conservative Party.

A Conservative victory would represent a reprimand from Trudeau, 49, who called for elections despite the pandemic in hopes of strengthening his minority government but now risks losing his post to opposition leader, a politician with a fraction of the name recognition.

Trudeau said O’Toole could not be trusted.

O’Toole calls himself a conservative leader with a new style and says he rejects celebrity and split politics. He describes his views as pro-abortion rights and pro-LGBTQ rights. He told the audience at a campaign event in Quebec: “You have sometimes been let down by all parties in all stripes, including mine, sometimes.”

“From the first day of my leadership, my priority has been to build a conservative movement where every Canadian can feel at home: inclusive, versatile, forward-thinking, progressive, pro-worker,” O’Toole said Wednesday. “We are no longer your father’s conservative party.”

It is dramatically different language than what O’Toole used in his attempt to become a conservative party leader last year. O’Toole won the post with the support of social conservatives and weapons enthusiasts, and by belittling the conservative references of a centrist opponent.

Since then, many of his actions are more reminiscent of the leadership candidate he beat than of a right-wing standard.

For example, he reversed the party’s position on weapons earlier this month, contradicting the conservative platform he released in August by promising to keep Trudeau’s list of banned firearms. O’Toole now also prefers a carbon tax to combat climate change, a policy from Trudeau that his party strongly opposed for years and that O’Toole had promised to reverse.

Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said an O’Toole victory would give moderate Republicans in the United States proof that a more centrist, large tent party can win elections.

“” This is an indication that if you run to the center, as Republicans always did, it works, “Bothwell said.” If I were a moderate Conservative, I would be happy and I would point it out as much as I could. “

Ian Brodie, a professor at the University of Calgary who served as chief of staff to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, said he believes hatred of Trudeau will prevent the most conservative voters from abandoning O’Toole on Monday.

Brodie said that many conservatives in western Canada believe that Trudeau, who has spoken of a day when oil is not needed, has a condescending view of the oil industry that is central to Alberta’s economic vitality.

“I can not exaggerate how much people want to get rid of Trudeau here, so it’s all on hands,” he said.

Political observers have been quick to note O’Toole’s new streaks. Robyn Urback, columnist for Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, wrote: “If there are still those who do not like Mr O’Toole’s position on something, well, just wait a few minutes. ”

Professor of political science at the University of Toronto, Professor Nelson Wiseman, described O’Toole as “two faces” but said the party leader’s political upheavals did not appear to have been recorded among voters despite “everyone shouting at him.”

But Wiseman believes O’Toole does not require conservative candidates to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and refuses to say how many of them can not cost him Monday, especially after a provincial conservative government in Alberta this week apologized for abusing him. pandemic.

“The conservative stance on vaccinations is hurting the party and O’Toole as a growing number of those vaccinated are increasingly outraged by those who refuse to be vaccinated,” the political scientist said.

Like Trudeau, the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, O’Toole was born in Montreal and is the son of a longtime politician. His father served as a Conservative member of Ontario’s provincial legislature for nearly 20 years.

O’Toole’s mother died of breast cancer when he was 9. After his father remarried, he grew up as the eldest in a mixed family with five children. Influenced by his father’s public service, he joined the military at 18 and went on to the Royal Military College of Canada.

One of his professors there, Lubomyr Luciuk, said that O’Toole impressed him.

“Was he my smartest student? No, said Luciuk. “But he was someone who asked good questions and listened and learned. He was not afraid to stand up and say, “What am I going to read about this? ””

After graduating in 1995, O’Toole was commissioned as a Canadian Air Force officer. He flew in a Sea King helicopter as a navigator for marine search and rescue, and stopped leaving military service for law school.

After graduating, O’Toole worked on Canada’s version of Wall Street in Toronto. He was first elected to Parliament in 2012, representing a suburban area outside Toronto, and three years later joined Harper’s cabinet as Minister of Veterans Affairs.

He lost a bid to become party leader in 2017 but won last year using the voting system used by the Conservative Party. Long-time friends say the married father of two is neither an ideologue nor a Trump-style populist.

Luciuk said he believes his former student’s lack of celebrities appeals to Canadians after more than five years of Trudeau’s leadership.

“He is not a debonair. You do not say, “Oh, what a handsome man.” He is not, says the professor. “I see a pretty ordinary guy, but most of us are. He reasons with people because he has reason, he is pragmatic. He’s not a doctrinaire. He does not pay attention to any of the wing nuts, frankly, who are in the Conservative Party. ”


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