A Conversation With Erin O'Toole

March 10th, 2017 | J. Hodgson
erin o'toole
Erin O’Toole is slowly building an army of support among Conservative members. Little by little he’s winning over both his own colleagues and the conservative grassroots with his ambitious vision of a prosperous, forward-looking Canada that tackles problems head on. He’s not just a warmed up Harper leftover and he’s not trying to radically redefine Canadian conservatism. Erin is like a combination of John Diefenbaker and Hugh Segal. He strikes me as being in the tradition of the One Nation Tory, but with specifically targeted ambitions on national defence, effective governance and staving off Canada’s looming demographic challenges. In this interview Erin lays out his vision for opening the north, rebuilding the military, countering liberal media bias and more.

Read on...

Hodgson: Thanks for taking some time out from campaigning to speak with us today.

O’Toole: No problem, we’re pretty happy with where we’re at and I just wanted to say I remember a year ago your website put out an article saying that the next Conservative Party leader should be Erin O’Toole and I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but I remember reading it and it was a very positive piece and I appreciated it.

(The piece Erin refers to was O'Toole Must Lead The Conservatives, written by our former colleague Trevor Norris)

Hodgson: You’ve got a law degree and you’re an MP. Why bother with the stress of trying to lead this party to victory? Why do you want to do this?

O’Toole: Canada. I wanted to make sure that our party and our conservative approach to things makes the country better and halts the decline that we’re already seeing after a year and half of Justin Trudeau.

You’re right, I was a lawyer for a number of years, but my first job was in the military. Anyone who joins the military right out of highschool does so out of service and a desire to make the country a better place and to put their own interests behind that of the good of the country. It was the way I was raised and now as an MP I want our party to be smart as we tackle the future. We’ve got a great track record, but we need a new style going forward in order to win. We can win the next election and it will be critically important we do so after the decline under Trudeau.

Hodgson: You’ve got the second most endorsements in caucus. What does this mean to you?

O’Toole: It’s critical. I’ve been in elected politics the least amount of time compared to other caucus candidates. I’m not a career politician, I was in the military for 12 years and the private sector for the better part of a decade, and I’ve only been in politics for 4 years. The fact that so many of my colleagues have stepped up and joined my campaign shows that they feel I have the right mixture of experience and approach in order to win the next election.

Hodgson: I’ve read through your extensive policy in regards to the military and I find it refreshing and impressive. You want to double the defence budget and hit 2% of GDP spending on our military. A lot of conservatives in Canada felt disappointed that Harper didn’t get more done on this file. What do you envision for our forces?

O’Toole: As a founding member of NATO and as a country that likes to feel that we are a key part of this western alliance that provides stability and opportunity and freedom, we need to start pulling our weight. You see the debate with President Trump talking about the free riders in NATO and I want us to ramp up on a plan that allows us to meet our NATO requirement. I want our men and women to have the resources that are needed. I also want us to tackle some of the unique challenges the 21st century is facing. I want to increase spending on cyber warfare and cyber security. That’s the future and if we focus on this it will have industrial/economic trickle over effects into our I.T. and tech space in this country. We can be a NATO centre of excellence in this.

I also want to make sure we express our sovereignty in our north. I want to complete our naval port in Nunavut and rebuild the reserves in the Yukon and the Canadian Rangers. At a time when Russia is invading Ukraine and not honouring boundaries, we have to exert our presence in our north. It’s the largest part of our landmass and with increasing resource exploration and tourism up there we have to make our presence felt.

I want to rebuild the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves and training units across the country.
If we do all this then Canada can be a voice of reason and seriousness on the world stage, because we’ll be leading our commitments and playing a key role.
It’s important to me to be the first veteran since Pearson to be a Prime Minister and I think a lot of veterans and military members appreciate this.

Hodgson: Why is this file so difficult to fix. There seems to be a lot of inertia on these issues. Why is it so hard?

O’Toole: Canadians have a deep and long respect and admiration for the men and women who serve us, but the military got neglected during the decade of darkness under Jean Chretien and I saw it first hand. We need to keep these issues at the forefront and talk about it more. We need to explain things more and promote this fine institution. We need to explain why it’s important for Canada to play a role in NATO and why we need to properly fund our armed forces.

Hodgson: I like the nation building aspect of your ambitions for the military. Using investment to open up the north for example. This is something new.

O’Toole: Many countries don’t fully acknowledge our full claim to the arctic and that’s a problem. If we can’t protect our sovereignty it’s a problem. Canadians take pride in the north and we need to make sure we protect all parts of it. That means doubling the military budget so we can do what we need to do.

Hodgson: What’s the deal with CANZUK?

O’Toole: CANZUK is basically an enhancement of the Commonwealth and Five Eyes partnership. We have these allied countries with similar laws, economies, systems etc. With the U.S. we already have free trade and relatively free movement. Why not extend and enhance this with our other allies like Australia and Great Britain? We’ll have enhanced security and enhanced cooperation and overtime this system could be aspirational and we could incorporate even more countries under this partnership such as India. It’s a smart alternative to these trade deals like the TPP, where there wasn’t necessarily shared interests on all levels.

Hodgson: Are you worried that with open borders with countries like Great Britain and especially New Zealand and Australia, that Canada will hemorrhage people in search of warmer climates?

O’Toole: We’re a hardy people and we like to joke about the weather and I’ve lived in Winterpeg! I don’t think we’d lose people in any large numbers, this would allow people to move around more easily to study and work and others to come here. The movement of people back and forth is already happening. Go to Whistler and it’s run by Australians. My sister married an Australian airforce pilot. I have another sister living in England. So people moving around is already happening. If we want to offer people a warmer area of Canada, then we should have a chat again with the Turks and Caicos islands!

Hodgson: You’d like to invite them to become a province?

O’Toole: I met the Premier of Turks and Caicos and I know Peter Goldring who is a former MP who proposed this and I read his plan. This idea goes back to Robert Borden and a post-World War 1 notion. Would I love some of the money that’s spent by snowbirds in Florida and Arizona to flow back into the Canadian economy? Yeah I would. I’m never opposed to talking about good ideas and I’d be open to it.

Hodgson: Is there a long-term Conservative plan for CANZUK that would see it function as a bulwark against future leftist governments? For example, if a future Liberal, or God-forbid NDP government, takes power…

O’Toole: I like to joke that we already have our first federal NDP government, but it just happens to be run by Justin Trudeau and his Liberals.

Hodgson: Yes.

O’Toole: That’s why he and Rachel Notley get along so well!

Hodgson: Yeah, I hear you. But is there a long-term idea that CANZUK will allow Canadians an easy escape valve from those catastrophic economic ideologies, or perhaps temper those ideologies since those parties will know they can’t go too far without people leaving. Is that part of this plan?

O’Toole: No, I haven’t looked at it from that consideration. I look at this as accomplishing what the TPP was supposed to do. The TPP was supposed to provide a trading partnership amongst Asian nations to have a context beyond China. That didn’t happen and we were at the table as we should be, so if we can continue on with an improved alternative like CANZUK then it will benefit us greatly. Including the U.K. in this partnership will offer a new trade deal in a post-Brexit world. Why wouldn’t we have this conversation now? Now is the time.

Hodgson: Let’s talk about liberal-media bias. The 2015 election was an avalanche of Harper Derangement Syndrome and it doesn’t seem to have abated in terms of Conservative Party smearing. How does the Conservative Party move forward in a media landscape that’s hostile to conservatism?

O’Toole: You may be surprised by my comment, but I’m a straight shooter as you know. Many of our bad relationships in media were self-inflicted. I saw this up front when I took over Veteran’s Affairs. We had allowed a narrative to develop that we were anti-veteran. People thought we were cutting money to veterans at a time when we were increasing spending. A similar narrative took place in terms of science. “The war on science” was BS but these narratives took place because we didn’t do enough media. We didn’t do enough social media. We didn’t do enough mainstream media.

Is there bias? Absolutely, but we have to be smart and we have to get our message out there. Harper Derangement Syndrome didn’t start at the dropping of the writ. It was mainly the unions that flew people around and orchestrated the media and we were not countering this with our own story.

Part of the reason I’m running is that I saw how communication can turn things around. In Veteran’s Affairs I saw how you can win back people, people who were even suing the government, some of those people are donating now to my leadership campaign! If you explain things respectfully and intelligently, people will respect you even if they disagree.

Prime Minister Harper used to explain things very, very well in caucus and he should have been doing more media, because he was better at explaining things than any of us. We can’t allow frustrations with media coverage to force us to turn in on ourselves. Harper Derangement Syndrome developed in part because we weren’t telling our stories well enough. I want to tell our story not just in the Commons, but in the coffee shops and campuses. I try to reach out using things like podcasts, blogs, and look at what you guys do! Poletical does better coverage of politics than some in the mainstream media. We have to be a part of all these conversations and not give up.

Hodgson: Your Generation Kickstart plan focuses on massive tax credits for young people. Why is that important?

O’Toole: In the next 15 years there will only be 2 people entering the workforce for every 1 person retiring. 40 years ago it was 6 people entering for every 1 person retiring. We can’t afford Canada as it is, unless we get serious about the future. If this upcoming generation succeeds then Canada will be secure. If this upcoming generation fails and has no opportunity other than job churn and leaving for the United States then we’re in serious trouble. Economic indicators under Trudeau show serious trouble. One of my success measures as Prime Minister will be the engagement of the young generation with our economy. If they fail, we’ll all fail.

Hodgson: Some people pin their hopes on increased immigration. What’s your immigration plan?

O’Toole: We’ve got a plan. There’s three main points. Security and security screening is important. Skills based immigration is important so people coming here can serve the needs of our economy. Lastly, stability is important. We shouldn’t be having wild, politically-driven fluctuations in immigration numbers.

Hodgson: Do you have a specific number in mind? Chris Alexander and Rick Peterson have both advocated for 400,000 immigrants a year.

O’Toole: Our system can’t handle that number. We need our system to work for Canadians and immigrants coming here so everyone can succeed. We’re looking at 270,000 as a stable number which is roughly what it was during the Harper era. We’ll review it every five years. We also want to encourage people to move to areas of the country that are losing population. Everyone shouldn’t be heading to Toronto and Vancouver, it causes less opportunity and drives up housing prices.

Hodgson: How does the Conservative Party win the next election?

O’Toole: With my ideas and with my style I think the party can be more positive and optimistic. Too often we trade in the opposite of that. I look at ideas and style as key to winning the next election.

Check out Erin’s campaign website, it’s one of the better ones! You have until March 28th, 2017 to purchase your membership in order to get a vote. The leadership race is decided May 27th, 2017.