Erin O'Toole launches Conservative leadership bid, promises to be the 'true blue' candidate

Ontario MP Erin O'Toole announced Monday he is joining the race to lead Canada's Conservatives, promising to bring "true blue leadership" to the party as it looks for a successor to Andrew Scheer.

Pitching himself as a 'fighter,' O'Toole vows to protect jobs and defend Canada from 'radical left'

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole is running to replace Andrew Scheer as Conservative leader. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ontario MP Erin O'Toole confirmed Monday he is joining the race to lead Canada's Conservatives, promising to bring "true blue leadership" to the party as it looks for a successor to Andrew Scheer.

This is O'Toole's second run for the leadership — he placed third behind Scheer and Maxime Bernier in the 2017 contest, with about 20 per cent of the vote on the final ballot.

O'Toole, who serves as Conservative foreign affairs critic, released a slickly produced campaign launch video highlighting his time as a tactical navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

O'Toole pitched himself as a fighter — a leader willing to "fight" for jobs in the manufacturing and natural resources sectors and to "defend our history, our institutions against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left."

"We are in a battle for the heart and soul of the Conservative Party. This leadership is a contest about what kind of party we are — a party that becomes more like the Liberals, or one that believes we win when we take a principled conservative stand," O'Toole said in a statement announcing his run.

In what could be a thinly veiled reference to Scheer — who has spent most of his adult life as an MP — O'Toole said he's not a "career politician."

"I'm not a product of the Ottawa bubble. I spent 10 years in the private sector and 12 years in our military, where you're judged by who you are and the work you do, not where you came from or who you know," O'Toole said in his launch video.

He said that he wants to "take the hyphen out of being a Conservative" — an apparent reference to the fractures in the Conservative ranks as social conservatives, Red Tories and moderate conservatives line up behind different leadership contenders to put their stamp on the party's policy.

So far, O'Toole has raised $25,000 and collected the 1,000 signatures required by the party before a candidate can start soliciting donations from the public.

A candidate must raise $300,000 and gather signatures from 3,000 card-carrying Conservative members by Mar. 25 to be placed on the final ballot.

A number of the MPs who endorsed O'Toole in last leadership race — including Ontario MP Colin Carrie, Manitoba MP James Bezan, Alberta MP Blaine Calkins and B.C. MP Ed Fast — already have announced they're backing former cabinet minister Peter MacKay for the top job this time.

O'Toole represents Durham in Parliament, a riding in the far eastern reaches of the Greater Toronto Area. He said he wants to improve the party's standing in ridings around the country's biggest cities.

The party was nearly shut out in the GTA in the last election and failed to make substantial inroads in suburban Vancouver.

"We need to show more urban and suburban Canadians that their values of liberty, family and equality are at the core of our party," O'Toole said.

"It's time Canadians have a government that fights for their needs instead of fighting for attention from global celebrities and corrupt corporate insiders," he said in his campaign launch video over a backdrop of images: a shot of climate campaigner and actor Leonardo Di Caprio, followed by a photo of an SNC-Lavalin building.

O'Toole made a similar pitch in 2017. At the time, O'Toole said the party needed to "reconnect with more Canadians" beyond the party's base. "We need to show Canadians that government can and must be more than sunny ways slogans and photo ops," he said at his last campaign launch event — a reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the last Conservative government, O'Toole took over the veterans affairs portfolio from embattled minister Julian Fantino — a ministry O'Toole described as "plagued by waiting lists, lawsuits and eroding trust." He said he brought together a team to "turn the department around in the final year of the Harper government."

A lawyer by training, O'Toole worked for the Halifax-based firm Stewart McKelvey and for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) as a legal analyst. Later, he worked as in-house legal counsel for Procter & Gamble, specifically focused on CoverGirl cosmetics.

O'Toole is one of the founders of the True Patriot Love Foundation, a charity dedicated to serving veterans and military families across Canada.

Who's running - and who's not - for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. (CBC News)


John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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