O'Toole Must Lead The Conservatives
In the wake of the October 19 election defeat, the Conservative Party of Canada lost the only leader it had ever known. A large variety of names have been tossed around for potential leadership, including those of Calgary MP Jason Kenney, former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier and fiery young Calgary MP, Michelle Rempel. Former Health Minister and current Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Rona Ambrose was voted in as the interim leader of the party in early November. This rules Ambrose out of the running for the upcoming race for full leadership of the party. Certainly, there is no shortage of potential candidates to lead the Conservative Party into the 2019 federal election.
Former Veteran's Affairs Minister, Erin O'Toole, was one of the MPs who put his name forward for interim leadership, but lost out to Ambrose. O'Toole was first elected in his riding of Durham in a byelection in November of 2012 after the resignation of Conservative MP, Bev Oda, who had been caught in an expense scandal. Despite the nasty taste left in voters' mouths by Oda, O'Toole won this seat in a landslide, earning nearly 51% of the vote. Just over two years later, in January of 2015, O'Toole was named as the Minister of Veteran's Affairs, replacing the oft-criticized Julian Fantino. Without a doubt, Fantino had absolutely bungled the VA portfolio. Opposition had called for his resignation in late 2014 after a long string of failures, including the closing of many VA offices.
In an early showing of his leadership capabilities, O'Toole was unafraid to criticize the moves of his own party when confronted by media. Describing his vision for the VA portfolio, O'Toole explained, "I want to create an informed and respectful dialogue about the opportunities and challenges facing our veterans. In the last few years, we haven't always seen that, and that's not serving veterans." A string of announcements made by O'Toole in March 2015, including correcting the process for granting benefits to disabled veterans, increasing the financial assistance for moderately to seriously disabled veterans aged 65 and older, and granting veteran reservists improved benefits, earned O'Toole praise from veterans ombudsman Guy Parent. Parent told CBC News, "It seems like the government is moving on some of the issues that the community at large has been putting forward." In April of 2015, O'Toole corrected a long standing issue of understaffing within the VA system by hiring 100 new case managers. All of the above considered, O'Toole was a very successful Minister of Veteran's Affairs.
It's one thing to do a good job as a politician in one short term in a cabinet role. That doesn't necessarily equate to being qualified to lead a federal party and run for the position of Prime Minister. Who is Erin O'Toole anyways?
Erin O'Toole was born in Montreal, QC and raised in Bowmanville and Port Perry, Ontario, which both fall in his federal riding of Durham. O'Toole graduated from Bowmanville High School in 1991 and joined the Canadian Armed Forces. In 1995, he graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada with honours, and he was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After stints with the RCAF's 8 Wing in Trenton, ON and 17 Wing in Winnipeg, MB, O'Toole earned his wings and transferred to 12 Wing in Shearwater, NS, flying with 423 Squadron as a tactical navigator. Erin O'Toole's Sea King played a number of roles, including those of search and rescue, surveillance and naval support. O'Toole eventually worked his way up to the rank of Captain and earned the Canadian Forces Decoration in honor of his 12 years spent serving in the RCAF. After the rescue of a fisherman who had been lost at sea, O'Toole and his crew were awarded the Sikorsky Helicopter Rescue Award. While serving as a training officer with 403 Squadron, he earned his law degree from Dalhousie University and he returned to Ontario in 2003. After his call to the bar in Ontario, O'Toole worked with prominent law firms Stikeman Elliot and Heenan Blaikie, and served as legal counsel for Proctor & Gamble. Since completing his service with the military, O'Toole has remained involved with Branch 178 of the Royal Canadian Legion, and helped found the True Patriot Love Foundation, raising over $11M for veterans as well as active military members and their families. Other organizations O'Toole has been involved with are the Vimy Foundation, the Churchill Society and the Rotary Club of Courtice. In 2012, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his charitable work.
If you've read this far, it should be quite clear to you that Erin O'Toole is an incredibly impressive and very accomplished man. It seems that the Conservative Party agrees. During a campaign in which many MPs and candidates were asked to stay out of the spotlight, O'Toole was a very prominent face and voice in the media throughout the 2015 federal election campaign, making a number of policy announcements and remaining available for regular interviews. Although he has not yet stated whether or not he intends to run for permanent leadership of the party, when announcing his intent to run for the interim leadership eventually awarded to Rona Ambrose, O'Toole stated, "I really think we have to show that we're serious about rebuilding right from Day 1," continuing to describe his vision by saying, "We need to show that we're bringing a new approach. I think we can get that out of the gate and start rebuilding and then whoever wins the leadership can take over a unified, strong party that's ready to be serious in four years." "We shouldn't fear debate," He later explained. "Our party has always been a party of ideas and principles. I think we should be really proud to talk about those more and not as worried about missteps."
When looking for the right candidate to lead the Conservative Party into the next four years and the 2019 election, it's clear that Erin O'Toole fits the bill entirely. Having only been elected at the end of 2012, he remains a relatively new face for the party. Free from scandal, O'Toole would be a difficult target for the Liberals and the NDP. Unlike Jason Kenney, O'Toole was not an MP that was especially close to Stephen Harper and cannot be framed as a "Harper establishment" type leader. His list of accomplishments is long and impressive. He would be an incredibly easy leader to promote. Furthermore, O'Toole's comments show that he recognizes the issues with the party and knows what direction he would take to correct those issues. There is no other potential leadership candidate who fits the bill nearly as well as O'Toole does, and for that reason, Erin O'Toole absolutely must be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Should he choose to run, I already know where my vote is going.