Erin O'Toole tells Tories he'll join Conservative leadership race

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole has told high-profile Conservatives he intends to run for the party's leadership to replace Andrew Scheer.

Former cabinet minister Peter MacKay says he's considering running to replace Scheer

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole has told provincial Tories he intends to run for the party's leadership to replace Andrew Scheer. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole has told high-profile Conservatives he intends to run to replace Andrew Scheer as party leader, CBC News has learned.

O'Toole attended a private Christmas party in Toronto last night and told several people in attendance that he plans to join the race.

Several Ontario provincial cabinet ministers were at the event.

O'Toole, who was first elected federally in a 2012 byelection, finished third in the 2017 Conservative leadership race.

He has a high profile on Parliament Hill as the party's foreign affairs critic, scrutinizing Trudeau's performance on the world stage and criticizing the Liberal government's handling of Canada-China relations.

A former military air force navigator, O'Toole served as veterans' affairs minister in Stephen Harper's cabinet.

First out of the gate?

O'Toole could become the first to declare in what could turn out to be a big field of candidates vying for the party's leadership. In 2017, 16 people put their names forward; three ultimately withdrew.

The other potential contenders being talked about in party circles include former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and Quebec Conservative MP Gérard Deltell.

In an exclusive interview with the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau, MacKay called O'Toole a "great guy" who has performed extremely well in the House and in the last leadership race.

As for his own potential leadership bid, MacKay said it's far too soon to make a decision of this magnitude, given its likely effect on his family. He said he will not be rushed into making any decision until he's given it a lot of thought.

"Obviously I have young kids and my wife, too. This will impact them in a very serious way, so we're having a discussion. We're going to talk to a lot of people, and that's what would be expected as I'm sure others are doing as well," he said.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay says he's considering a leadership bid. (CBC News)

Conservative MP Michael Chong, who ran in the last leadership race, said he expects the contest this time will be shorter than the 15-month marathon in 2017.

CBC News Network's Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos asked Chong today if he'll launch another leadership bid. "We'll see," he replied.

He said the next leader must be able to unite the party and all its different factions, while appealing to urban and millennial voters.

As for the hot-button social issues — like abortion and same-sex marriage rights — that got Scheer in trouble, Chong said the next leader must be able to reconcile the different views of Canadians.

"My view is that as prime minister my government would never introduce or support legislation on those kinds of issues, but if you're not in the government, then I believe it should be a free vote because that's consistent not just with Conservative principles, but principles of the freedom of conscience," he said.

The next step in the leadership contest is for the Conservative Party's National Council to form a leadership election organizing committee, which will decide on the rules, procedures, process and timelines for the contest.

After weeks of beating back criticism over his election performance, Scheer announced Thursday he will step down as leader once a successor is chosen.

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