How Erin O’Toole caught up to faltering Justin Trudeau after Liberals called snap election

CONSERVATIVE Party leader Erin O’Toole appears to have chosen his moment to emerge from the shadows perfectly.

Five points down when Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election last month, O’Toole now looks in a strong position for when Canadians go to the polls on September 20.

The current election campaign was Canada’s first chance to see O’Toole in action – having only previously run for an audience of CPC members – and they appear to have latched onto his moderate campaign.

Combined with an overconfidence from Trudeau, the election has transformed from a coronation which would allow the Liberals to gain back their outright majority to a potential catastrophe.

[READ MORE: Canada’s snap election could spell the end for Justin Trudeau]

Professor Richard Johnston of UBC said O’Toole’s rise was thanks to “a convergence of events” – including the government’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis.

He told Redaction Report about the three main factors: “Firstly, the transparent cynicism of the PM, which would have been a problem anyway.

“Second, the surge in cases of the Delta variant; and third, the swift collapse of the Kabul government, which amplified the already growing criticism of the government’s dilatory actions on patriating Afghans who had worked with the Canadian military.

“It did not help that the ability of the RCAF to get into Kabul was hampered by various factors beyond our control but which also underscore how irrelevant the country has become.

“The party in power sees a poll advantage that reflects a concatenation of factors unlikely to be sustained, and the campaign delivers a kind of regression to the mean.

“Commentators on polls, including the country’s two rather amateurish aggregators, took the poll indications at face value, hedging a bit only at the end – ask Theresa May.”

O’Toole is not only presented as a likeable figure to Canadian voters – especially compared to his predecessors – but his policy platform, much like the UK Conservative Party during the pandemic, appears to be free-spending as opposed to traditional conservative frugality.

Professor Max Cameron, also of UBC, suggested O’Toole’s move towards the centre during the campaign – while not alienating his base – has been extremely effective.

“Erin O’Toole was evidently ready for the campaign and has come across as more appealing than most people assumed he would, based on his leadership bid,” he told Redaction Report. 

“He ran for leader as a conservative but pivoted during this election campaign and now projects a more moderate image.

“He has managed, so far at least, to avoid being tripped up on the social issues that have plagued Tory campaigns of the past. The Tories may finally be coming out from under the shadow of PM Harper.”

There’s also questions about whether Trudeau would do a deal with the left-leaning NDP, who have also taken aim at him during the election.

The opposition parties were being very cooperative, which is what makes this election an unnecessary power grab.

Professor Max Cameron, UBC

For some, it is a chance to turn a resurgent left into a potential ally – but it appears Trudeau is unlikely to play ball.

“I doubt that he would make a deal, and the same may be true of the NDP,” Professor Johnston said.

“The track record of junior parties in Confidence and Supply agreements, not to mention outright coalition, is a sad one – ask Nick Clegg.

“If their combined seat share is a majority, Trudeau is likely to carry on with a minority government. The parties will then bargain issue by issue.”

Instead, he said, there’s more chance of the CPC forming an alliance with the Quebec-based Bloc Québécois, who hope to win 40 seats in this month’s election.

Professor Cameron suggested the opposition parties may not play nice with a minority government after the snap election.

He said: “The most likely outcome, however, would probably be an attempt to continue to govern in a minority position.

“The fact is that the Liberals never suffered a non-confidence vote. The opposition parties were being very cooperative, which is what makes this election an unnecessary power grab.”

Featured Image: Erin O’Toole @Flickr

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