Even before the federal election campaign began, Liberal Party of Canada and New Democratic Party strategists were talking about the risks of a major event: Erin O’Toole, though a Conservative Party leader for nearly a year, still seems being a pure stranger in the eyes of Canadians.
The focus groups formed by the parties to survey public opinion reported that they did not collect a positive or negative perception of Mr. O’Toole. If the Conservative leader succeeds in positioning himself and winning the sympathy of citizens, the election results could well take a very different form from that envisaged by the Liberals, I was told at the time.
It is therefore not surprising that this first week of the campaign is marked by the sustained efforts of the Conservative Party to define its leader in the minds of voters and prevent an unflattering image of Erin O’Toole from being imposed by his opponents.
However, from the first day of the campaign, last Sunday, everything started on the wrong foot. As soon as the 44it is Canadian federal election announced, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau saw fit to remind us that his Conservative opponent was not in favor of compulsory vaccination. If Erin O’Toole isn’t ready to force his own candidates or passengers on planes or trains to be properly vaccinated, how could he be the man for the job? suggested Mr. Trudeau.
The latest polls show that a large majority of Canadians are in favor of mandatory vaccination. However, certain currents of thought are strongly opposed to it, in particular on the side of libertarians and fundamentalist Christians. Mr. O’Toole’s response suggests that this is quite an important issue for his partisan base. That evening, in fact, the leader did not want to answer journalists’ questions about his own candidates. Several more progressive conservative activists could not believe their eyes: “Why get trapped? “
The next day, when his party’s platform was unveiled, Mr. O’Toole changed his strategic stance, favoring attack over defensive withdrawal. He chose to present himself as a Tory leader different from his predecessors. He wants to spend a lot. He suggests canceling the health budget cuts made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He offers to help restaurants by paying half of the bill of customers who frequent them from Monday to Wednesday. The message is clear: no room for austerity here.
While in Quebec this week, Mr. O’Toole said he believed in climate change (although the majority of delegates to his party’s last convention disagreed with him). And, knowing that abortion had been a key issue in Quebec during the 2019 campaign, Mr. O’Toole chose to take the lead and burst this abscess from the start. “I have always been pro-choice. If you trust the Conservative Party, you will elect a government that will respect rights [de la personne], [y compris] the right of women to choose for themselves, period, ”he said.
The Liberals wasted no time in pointing out the flaw: in their platform, the Conservatives pledge to protect the conscience rights of health professionals. It is a promise they also made during debates on the Physician-Assisted Dying Act. However, the Reds are hinting that the Conservatives will limit access to abortion.
Questioned by journalists, Mr. O’Toole chose Thursday to focus on the “freedom of conscience” of caregivers as part of the debate on medical assistance in dying. Under pressure, he did an about-face on Friday, saying those doctors and nurses would be forced to send their colleagues patients who requested medical assistance in dying or abortion.
The real question remains – and it may continue to haunt Mr. O’Toole despite his turnaround on Friday: can he, yes or no, guarantee that a possible Conservative government does not reopen the abortion debate?
This spring, more than two-thirds of Conservative MPs (81 of the party’s 119 elected officials), including Mr. O’Toole’s deputy leader and 30 members of his shadow cabinet, voted for their Bill C-233. colleague Cathay Wagantall, even as their leader opposed the motion on her own behalf.
The member for Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan, proposed amending the Criminal Code to make it illegal to have an abortion “based solely on the genetic sex of the child.” A doctor convicted of a sex-selective abortion could have faced a maximum prison sentence of five years. Some Conservative MPs argued during confidential caucus discussions that this law would be unenforceable and would simply limit access to abortion in the country.
MP Wagantall is part of a growing group of pro-life activists within the Conservative MP: for several years, groups like Campaign Life Coalition and RightNow have been working to elect candidates opposed to abortion in town halls. investiture of the party. Mr. O’Toole had openly asked for their support during the last leadership race of the Conservative Party in order to defeat Peter MacKay.
As long as the Conservative leader promises his activists free votes on the abortion issue, one thing is certain: it will come back to haunt him.