Erin O’Toole won the race to become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada last week.
His early days on the job were fairly routine — the Durham, Ont., MP outlined his plans for the coming months and talked about the possibility of a snap election. But O’Toole’s first week ended with controversy, as a Conservative MP tweeted and deleted a post referencing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and then the new leader sidestepped a question about systemic racism.
Here’s a roundup of O’Toole’s first days as Conservative leader.
O’Toole says the Conservatives will be a big-tent party
In his first news conference with reporters as leader, O’Toole promised to defend abortion rights, LGBTQ rights and womens’ rights. The remarks distinguished him from former leader Andrew Scheer, who often stumbled in discussions about abortion and LGBTQ rights during the 2019 election, and signalled O’Toole’s intent to expand the party’s base beyond its stronghold in Western Canada.
“I won the leadership of the Conservative party as a pro-choice Conservative MP, one that won with a strong mandate,” O’Toole 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.”
O’Toole also said he’d stand up for the West, where the Conservative Party’s voting base lies.
Snap election? ‘Not my priority,’ O’Toole says
On Aug. 19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament until Sept. 23, a move that essentially hits the reset button. The government will have to deliver another throne speech, which triggers a confidence vote — if the sitting Liberals can’t secure enough support, there could be a snap election this fall.
Catch up on what happened during Erin O'Toole's first week as Conservative Party leader. #cdnpoli
Speaking on Aug. 25, O’Toole said his party is prepared for any outcome: “If Mr. Trudeau thinks he can play some games with a new leader and force an election, we will be ready.”
On Sunday, in an interview with Global News, O’Toole said he’s more focused on responding to COVID-19.
“That’s not my priority,” he said of the possibility of an election.
B.C. MP tweets about Soros conspiracy
O’Toole’s first test as leader came Saturday morning, in the form of a tweet from B.C. MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, the Conservative Party’s environment critic.
In the now-deleted tweet, Findlay said Canadians should be “disturbed” by a video showing Liberal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland interviewing George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist who is often the subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Freeland, a former journalist, was working for the Financial Times when the interview was filmed.
“The closeness of these two should alarm every Canadian,” Findlay wrote.
She later deleted the tweet and posted an apology, but didn’t address her comments about Freeland and Soros. “Earlier today, I thoughtlessly shared content from what I am now learning is a source that promotes hateful conspiracy theories. I have removed the tweets and apologize to anyone who thinks I would want to endorse hateful rhetoric,” she said.
O’Toole has not responded to the incident.
Questions about systemic racism
In the interview with Global News, O’Toole didn’t directly answer when asked if he believes there’s systemic racism in Canada. Scheer took criticism for a similar response to the same question in June, amid massive protests in the United States and Canada over the issue.
“Until someone defines what that is, I’m always going to say, ‘I think there is racism’ and I want to stamp it out,” O’Toole said.
“I fight for people that wear a uniform. And when you use a term like ‘systemic,’ some of those people feel that you’re calling them racist.”
Emma McIntosh / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer