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Federal Politics

Please Advise! Who in the World Is Erin O’Toole?

The new Conservative leader may be a ‘walking blancmange.’ But at least he’s not Peter MacKay.

Steve Burgess 25 Aug

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Erin O’Toole has been selected as the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Do you think they made the right choice?



Dear Voter,

Of all the Trump talking points the Conservatives might have highlighted at their weekend leadership convention, who had their money on electoral chaos?

Thousands of torn ballots delayed the results for hours. The party’s western power base notwithstanding, collecting votes with an International Harvester was probably a bad idea. It was the kind of weirdness that would drive QAnon types berserk, if anyone in QAnon knew where Canada was.

Poor CBC host Rosemary Barton, left staring at a kettle that simply would not boil. The hours crawled by, reporters staring at the horizon like stranded BC Ferries passengers, hopefully declaring that something was coming in 20 minutes, this time for sure!

The clock struck midnight EDT by which time Barton was probably sufficiently delirious that she imagined her studio turning into a pumpkin. When eventual victor Erin O’Toole finally gave his acceptance speech the television audience must have resembled Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Diner. And poor Peter MacKay had missed the last helicopter home.

It seems MacKay just can’t win, which is a rather unfortunate trait for a politician. At the beginning of the Conservative leadership contest someone must have told MacKay the race was his to lose, and he misunderstood. He ran as inept a campaign as any major party candidate in recent memory, filled with blunders and backtracks. At times he appeared to be trying to court the hard right, but the effect was like a Scottish waiter trying to sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish.

To be fair, winning candidate O’Toole had also been attempting a political repositioning similar to MacKay’s. He just did it it a little better.

O’Toole had the added advantage of being a cipher. Unlike MacKay, he had little in the way of an established public profile (despite eight years as an MP). O’Toole had run a much more middle-of-the-road campaign in the last leadership race, when he finished third, but tacked right this time. Proof of his success came after the first ballot when the supporters of social conservatives Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis made O’Toole their second or third choice on the ranked ballots. The newly minted Conservative leader may not be very clear about what his slogan “Take Back Canada” actually means, but some Conservative party members apparently figured it out well enough.

There was surely no one happier about this outcome than Andrew Scheer. MacKay had mocked the outgoing leader for his electoral failure, comparing it to missing a breakaway on an open net. On Sunday night — Monday morning, actually — Scheer must have been chirping louder than Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Scheer later said he hoped the new leader would spread a “message of hope.” He did not specify what the party is hoping for, but it’s probably a time machine set for somewhere around 1952.

The weekend’s breakout star was Lewis, a leadership hopeful with no previous electoral victories to her credit but who put in a surprisingly strong third-place showing.

As a Black woman Lewis certainly stands out from the field of Conservative candidates — at least until you look at her policy positions, at which point the Toronto lawyer’s anti-environment, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights agenda fits right in. Perhaps we can take a perverse pride in knowing that if a candidate is sufficiently regressive, Conservative party members are quite capable of inclusivity.

But the new Conservative leader is Erin O’Toole, currently a walking blancmange.

Is anonymity a good or bad thing for a political leader right now?

Liberals and Conservatives will both be scrambling to define the new leader in the public mind. But Dr. Steve believes that being a blank slate may not be a bad thing for a Conservative leader these days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is, for good or ill, an international cover boy. How voters feel about him and his government is more likely to define the next election than anything coming from a talking potato.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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