As Erin O’Toole thanked supporters for handing him a victory in the Conservative leadership race in the early hours of Aug. 24, he outlined his priorities for next steps as party leader: defeating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and getting Canada “back on track.”
“We must continue to point out Liberal failings and corruption. But we must also show Canadians our vision for a stronger, prosperous and more united Canada,” he said in his acceptance speech.
“Canada can and must do better, and Conservatives will work hard to earn the trust and confidence of Canadians in the next election. Friends, now the real work begins.”
Since O’Toole first joined the leadership race in January, much has changed. The global pandemic has claimed over 9,000 Canadian lives and the Liberal government has been rocked by the WE Charity scandal. The government has prorogued Parliament, planning to start the new session with a vote of confidence.
“We can rebuild our great country while protecting Canadians from the ongoing threat of COVID-19,” O’Toole said in his acceptance speech.
“We can get Canadians back to work, be proud of the things we grow, build and produce in Canada again. We must have a government that will keep us safe, and ensure that we are never ill-prepared again.”
Steering Canada through post-pandemic recovery will be a complex task—both in terms of rebuilding the economy, managing a record-high deficit, and preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19.
Here’s what O’Toole says he would do if he called the shots.
Managing the Deficit
O’Toole campaigned on a fiscal stability plan to tackle the $340 billion deficit and create a realistic timeline to balance the budget that takes into account emergency benefits such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. A conservative government under O’Toole would wind down CERB with a sliding scale in each province to take into account economic activity and unemployment levels by province.
O’Toole said he would also look into extending employment insurance for those not covered, such as the self-employed.
Rebuilding the Economy
O’Toole campaigned on a pipeline-friendly platform and has said he would introduce a National Strategic Pipelines Act within his first 100 days in office to speed up approval of pipelines that are in the national interest. His energy strategy would also include phasing out importation of oil from outside of North America, ending Bills C-69 and C-48 to encourage large project investment in Canada, and partnering with First Nations in large resource projects.
Cutting and “simplifying” taxes and reducing red tape was also part of O’Toole’s campaign promises, as well as removing interprovincial trade barriers that he says would hold back economic recovery.
He has said that small- and medium-sized owner-operator businesses were hit hardest in the pandemic, suffering from a loss of business during lockdown while falling through the cracks of emergency aid. To address this he would expand the Canada Emergency Business Account program to extend loans and operating grants to small- and medium-sized businesses based on employment and economic activity, and make larger grant portions available for small businesses missed by the CEBA program.
He would also cut taxes for small businesses and provide new hiring incentives to promote job creation and introduce tools to help small businesses avoid insolvency.
His “Back to Work” agenda would encourage re-opening the economy while introducing pandemic safety measures such as increased testing, instituting masks and other PPE for crowded indoor spaces, and non-mandatory contact tracing programs.
Support for Families
O’Toole has promised increased childcare benefits to support families dealing with loss of employment and childcare.
He says he would convert the existing Child Care Expense deduction to a refundable tax credit for the duration of the recovery period. The refundable tax credit would cover up to 75 percent of childcare expenses and be rolled back as the economy recovers.
He would also double the existing limits under the Child Care Expense deduction, meaning families would get a refundable tax credit for up to $16,000 in childcare expenses for children aged 0-6 and $10,000 for children aged 7-17.
He would also “repeat the one-time boost in the Canada Child Benefit into quarterly boosts until the end of 2021, providing $12 billion in transition assistance to Canadian families.”
One of O’Toole’s campaign promises was to convene a Royal Commission on the pandemic within 100 days of taking office “to ensure that all lessons learned from the crisis are publicly aired and learnings can immediately be adopted.”
The commission would look at areas like long-term care homes and how Canada can be better prepared for future threats.
He has also called for Canada to build a domestic supply of essential PPE, key commodities, and pharmaceutical capacity to lessen reliance on foreign powers like China—which was accused of hoarding essential PPE in the early days of the pandemic.
He would impose measures to improve food security such as greenhouse infrastructure programs to grow more food in Canada year-round, and strengthen ties with the United States and Mexico.
O’Toole’s foreign policy objectives would also focus on domestic interests, such as strengthening foreign investment reviews so that all purchases of Canadian companies and resources by state-owned entities from non-free countries require approval.
He would work with allies to fix global trading systems and practices so that preferences are shown to countries that adhere to “high standards of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and environmental transparency.”
As he closed his speech on Monday, O’Toole said he was up to the task.
“Canada needs serious leadership for these challenging times to keep Canadians safe and prepare for the future, to rebuild our country, to navigate our way out of record Liberal deficits before they put our social programs at risk, to ensure that we rebuild stronger and more self-reliant, more resilient, so that we are better prepared for future waves of COVID-19 and all threats to restore Canada’s place in a tough world.”