The Conservative Party of Canada will choose a new leader next month.
It’s been a difficult leadership campaign. A slew of potential candidates, including Rona Ambrose, Jean Charest and Pierre Poilievre, declined to run.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 temporarily suspended campaigning and fundraising – and led to the cancellation of the June 27 party convention. Delegates will instead vote with mail-in ballots that must be received by Aug. 21.
Four candidates will be on the ballot: Leslyn Lewis, Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan.
It’s been my practise to issue political endorsements as I see fit. I’m not a party member and don’t have a dog in this fight.
However, my role as a small ‘c’ conservative columnist for more than 25 years and political analyst/public affairs commentator on radio and TV, and my extensive political experience – including as a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper – hopefully counts for something.
The first candidate eliminated in my mind was Sloan. While I’m sure the first-term MP serves the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington in an honourable fashion, he’s handled himself poorly on the national stage.
Sloan’s video about Canada’s chief medical officer Theresa Tam either working “for Canada or for China” was offensive and an unnecessary distraction. He later described the comments as “rhetorical,” but didn’t apologize or retract them. Additional comments that the science wasn’t clear on sexual orientation and voting against a ban on conversion therapy weren’t helpful, either.
As a fiscal conservative and moderate social conservative, I’m perfectly fine with candidates like Sloan running for the party leadership. Unfortunately, he lacks proper public relations and communication skills – and has repeatedly delved into controversies that Tories didn’t need to see, hear or debate at this critical juncture.
Lewis, on the other hand, is an interesting candidate.
A lawyer who holds a PhD in international law, she’s been the most consistent on fiscal and social conservative issues. This includes a strong defence of free markets and international trade, opposing the carbon tax, reviewing the Canada Firearms Act to remove undue bureaucratic influence, opposing programs based on identity politics, and a pro-life position on abortion, among other things.
Unfortunately, Lewis has a fundamental lack of political experience. She served as vice-president in the Markham-Stouffville Conservative riding association and ran in 2015 as a federal Tory in Scarborough-Rouge Park in Ontario, albeit as a replacement due to some controversy in the riding. But it’s not the same as being an elected official who serves the public.
If Lewis runs in the next federal election and wins a seat, this will greatly enhance her political stock. As it stands, she’s not ready to step into a leadership role.
This brings us to the two main candidates.
MacKay certainly doesn’t lack experience. He’s been a Crown prosecutor, was the last leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives, and served in several ministerial portfolios, including Justice/Attorney General and Foreign Affairs.
I’ve known MacKay for a long time. He’s a nice person and has some fiscal conservative credentials. Alas, he tends to be more of a Red Tory – or Tory centrist, if you prefer.
His support for same-sex marriage in 2006 (a complete reversal from his past position), opposition to restricting abortion and conscience rights for euthanasia without eliminating the procedure are on the record.
MacKay doesn’t discuss free-market innovations to improve health care and/or education, significant tax reductions for individuals and corporations, removing onerous restrictions on foreign ownership, or opening up Canada’s telecommunications and airline industries.
In fairness, MacKay wants to repeal the carbon tax, opposes RCMP defunding, would eliminate the federal firearms ban, create a military base in Churchill, Man., and enable small business owners to invest their RRSPs into their own enterprises. These are good initiatives but don’t balance well against his middle-of-the-road positions on other matters.
Will MacKay be consistent on a political and ideological basis as party leader?
If history is any measure, the answer is pretty clear – and troubling.
Finally, O’Toole served as a Royal Canadian Air Force captain, has been a Conservative MP since 2012 and was minister of Veterans Affairs. He’s attempted to balance Red Tory and Blue Tory concerns, and has followed Harper’s successful model of incremental conservatism closer than any other leadership candidate.
To O’Toole’s credit, he’s one of only two candidates to have focused on business issues. This includes eliminating interprovincial trade barriers, ending corporate subsidies, and an allowance for a one-time, $50,000 RRSP withdrawal to be invested in one’s business.
He also wants to double the child care expense deduction, decriminalize firearms offences caused by administrative expiration, was the first to call for Canada’s embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem, wants to criminalize blocking areas such as railways, airports and major roads, would repeal the carbon tax, and implement pay-as-you-go legislation for the federal deficit, among other things.
O’Toole’s plan is the most intelligent, detailed and realistic approach to beating Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election. It should appeal to Tory supporters, and will hopefully recapture many votes and seats the party lost in the last two federal elections.
With this in mind, I heartily endorse Erin O’Toole as the next federal Conservative leader.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.