The Current

Erin O'Toole says Conservatives won't necessarily trigger election when Parliament resumes

Erin O'Toole, the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, said he won't necessarily force an election when Parliament reconvenes on September 23.

New Conservative Party leader may wish to allow Canadians to get to know him better

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds his first news conference as leader on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Aug. 25. O'Toole told Matt Galloway he shouldn't assume the Conservatives will trigger an election with Parliament resumes. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

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Erin O'Toole, the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, said he won't necessarily force an election when Parliament reconvenes later this month.

Asked if he would bring down the government during a confidence vote after the Prime Minister's throne speech on Sept. 23, O'Toole told The Current's Matt Galloway not to assume that would be the case.

"Well, you know what they say about making assumptions, Matt," said O'Toole, who was elected Tory leader at the Conservative party convention on Aug. 23.

O'Toole accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of avoiding accountability by having fewer days in Parliament during the crisis.

Both the House of Commons and the Senate were shut down starting March 15 in order to avoid contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

"For him to have an election before he really presents a plan for Canada in the economic rebuild post-CERB, post-first wave, preparing for the second wave, wouldn't be living up to … parliamentary responsibilities in a parliamentary democracy," said O'Toole.

The Conservative leader said he could support additional investment in response to needs created or highlighted by the pandemic. 

"But we have to make sure that if we're basically indebting our children, we're doing it for strategic, smart reasons. So if it's about getting people back to work, it's about helping the vulnerable, reinforcing some long-term care homes, working with our provincial partners to prepare for a second wave, that's great."

"If it's hundreds of millions of dollars handed out to the charitable friends of [former finance minister Bill] Morneau and Mr. Trudeau, that is disgraceful in a pandemic," he said, referencing the WE Charity scandal.

Buying time for a get-to-know-you period?

But members of The Current's political panel said O'Toole may also be buying time before a general election.

"We know that the Conservatives would very much rather have an election later rather than sooner," said Althia Raj, Ottawa bureau chief for Huffington Post Canada. "They feel that Mr. O'Toole is not well known as a personality to the country."

Raj added that while it seemed O'Toole was opening the door to potentially triggering an election during a second confidence vote after a fiscal update later in the fall, he probably would find some common ground with Trudeau's priorities as set out in the throne speech.

Rob Russo, parliamentary bureau chief for CBC News, noted that this was the first time O'Toole had indicated that he'd support new spending on long-term care.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adjusts his face mask following a news conference in Montreal, Aug 31. The Current's political panel said O'Toole may be more willing to work with Trudeau's Liberals this fall, buying time for Canadians to get to know him. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"If you go down the list of some of what Mr. O'Toole is proposing, there are a lot of similarities between what he and Mr. Trudeau are proposing. And in some ways, I'm sure that that's by design," said Russo. 

"Mr. O'Toole seems quite intent on trying to increase his political fortunes by adding supporters rather than subtracting, which was something that his predecessor was accused of in the past." 

Balancing act

When asked by Galloway to explain how he will meet his promise to balance the federal budget within 10 years given the uncertainty around economic recovery, O'Toole said that 10 years was a target, not a firm deadline.

"What I said was over a decade or so, because there is going to be no rapid plan to get back to balance," said O'Toole.

Raj said that's a distinction the Conservatives must make amid the current climate of economic insecurity.

"Mr. O'Toole is trying really hard not to be accused of wanting to have an austerity budget."

Russo agreed.

"We're going to have an election that's fought around what those hundreds of billions of dollars is going to be spent on rather than how much is going to be spent. Everybody now agrees that austerity is completely out the window.

"When you hear a Conservative leader say '10 years or so before we get back to balance,' we are in a new world." 

Written by Brandie Weikle. Produced by Paul MacInnis and Julie Crysler.

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