O'Toole Nominates Campaign Fundraiser to Be Chair of Conservative Fund

O'Toole Nominates Campaign Fundraiser to Be Chair of Conservative Fund
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole introduces his Deputy Leader Candice Bergen as they hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sept. 2, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—The Conservative Party’s fundraising arm has a new chair for the first time in two decades.

Leader Erin O’Toole says he is nominating his longtime campaign fundraiser James Dodds to be chair of the Conservative Fund, replacing former senator Irving Gerstein, who is retiring.

The nomination must be approved by the party’s national council.

Dodds is a vice-president at the TD Bank Group in Toronto and has aided O’Toole in both his bids to be the Conservative leader.

O’Toole became the new leader Aug. 23 and is now putting his stamp on the party.

On Wednesday, he named his House of Commons team, including Manitoba MP Candice Bergen as deputy leader, and is to announce his new shadow cabinet next week.

The full Conservative caucus is set to have its first meeting with O’Toole in the leader’s chair on Sept. 9. O’Toole has said his priorities for the fall are the economic recovery and addressing the rise of western alienation.

Triggering a fall election by voting down the throne speech expected Sept. 23 is not his priority, said O’Toole earlier this week, but he said the Conservatives will be ready for a fall election if they decide one is needed.

Concerns about some party spending decisions and the secrecy surrounding them have caused unrest within the Conservative party and contributed to the departure of former leader Andrew Scheer.

Many within the party were outraged when they discovered that the Fund had been paying up to $18,000 a year to help cover the cost of private-school tuition for four of Scheer’s five children.

The controversy also cost party executive director Dustin Van Vugt his job.

Van Vugt always said the payments had been properly approved but many directors on the Conservative Fund were unaware of them.

Conservatives were also surprised to discover the opposition leader’s office had spent $925,000 in 2019, instead of the $201,000 originally budgeted for it by the Fund. Some were critical of the power of the Fund’s board to unilaterally make budget changes without much consultation or input from the party’s national council.

Dodds is the first new chair of the fund officially since 2003, when the Conservative Party was formed by the merger of the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance.

Gerstein made his name as the president of the Peoples jewelry chain. He had chaired the fundraising arm of the PC party for four years prior to the merger, and was named chair of the new Conservative Fund at its inception.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper was named a director of the Fund in 2016 but stepped down earlier this year.

Dodds was the national fundraising chair for O’Toole’s leadership campaign in 2017 and aided on the campaign this year.

He and O’Toole also worked together at least once before politics, both serving on a committee for the True Patriot Love Foundation, a charity that supports the military and veterans.