O’Toole Likely to Move Quickly to Put Stamp on Federal Conservative Party

August 24, 2020 Updated: August 24, 2020

OTTAWA—Erin O’Toole begins a new political life as the leader of the federal Conservative party.

O’Toole was declared the winner of the leadership race early Monday morning after technical problems delayed the vote results by hours, as thousands of ballots had to be replicated by hand after the counting machine shredded their envelopes.

After three rounds of counting, O’Toole emerged the victor with 57 percent of the vote, a resounding victory over his rival Peter MacKay, who won 43 percent.

Ahead of their results, MacKay’s campaign had been hyping their record get−out−the−vote effort, particularly in Quebec where by virtue of the points system the party uses to elect a leader, each ballot could hold outsized weight.

But in the end it was O’Toole who won the province.

The technical troubles were a less−than−auspicious beginning for the new leader, who now is racing to get a team in place before Parliament returns next month with a throne speech that will trigger a confidence vote in the minority Liberal government.

O’Toole will have to make swift choices on who will be in his inner circle both on and off Parliament Hill—a campaign director and new party staffers are among the likely new hires on his agenda.

When Andrew Scheer won the race in 2017, he left in place many members of former interim leader Rona Ambrose’s team, as well as the party apparatus. He took office with little by way of a transition plan in place.

The new leader needs to put their stamp on things, said Garry Keller, who worked with Ambrose during her time in the role, and the changes need to be made quickly.

How O’Toole does that will be crucial as it is the first step toward mending what divisions were caused by the race, Keller said.

That means placing rival candidates’ supporters in key critic roles, or finding other ones for them to occupy, whether it is election prep or policy development, he said.

“Idle hands are not helping whoever wins the leadership,” he said.

Also key will be finding a place for Leslyn Lewis, whose climb from political newcomer to a third−place finish in the race cements the power of social conservatives in the party.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who had tried to enter the leadership race but fell short of the funds required, said she’s confident caucus will rally quickly behind O’Toole despite the acrimony that built up during the campaign.

At the same time, she said, change to how things have worked in the past is needed.

“I think at this point we’ve seen the results that we were getting were not satisfactory, so if you don’t change something and expect a different behaviour, that’s the definition of insanity.”