Erin O’Toole’s failed campaign to unseat prime minister Justin Trudeau saw him backtrack and flip flop on several key policies from the Conservative leadership campaign just one year prior.
O’Toole positioned himself as a “true blue conservative,” in contrast with his primary leadership foe Peter MacKay. However, the Conservatives’ general election campaign has been criticized by the party’s base as anything but “true blue.”
True North has compiled five key policies that Erin O’Toole used to woo Conservatives in the leadership campaign only to then turn around and appeal to Liberals in the general election.
Repealing the Liberal gun ban
During the 2020 CPC leadership race, O’Toole’s “True Blue Leadership” platform said he would oppose the Trudeau government’s proposals to confiscate legal firearms from Canadians. His platform specifically committed to repealing the Liberals’ May 2020 order-in-council prohibiting over 1500 firearm models and variants.
The August 16 launch of the Conservative Party Platform included the same promise to repeal the Liberal gun ban however, weeks later, O’Toole publicly flip flopped and said a Conservative government would “maintain the restrictions that were put in place in 2020.”
The Conservatives then added a footnote to their platform which stated, “All firearms that are currently banned will remain banned.”
Repealing the carbon tax
In the Conservative leadership race, O’Toole’s platform clearly stated that he would scrap the Trudeau carbon tax and that he would not be interfering with provincial jurisdiction over a federal carbon tax scheme.
His leadership platform stated, “A carbon tax is not an Environmental Plan, it is a Tax Plan. We need a smarter approach.” He doubled down on his commitment to scrap the tax by saying, “I will respect the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories by scrapping Trudeau’s carbon tax.”
O’Toole even signed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pledge eschewing a carbon tax.
In April, however, O’Toole announced that the Conservatives would implement a “low-carbon savings account,” which would allow Canadians to pay a surcharge on products the government deems as environmentally unfriendly. The money that is spent on that tax can then be used to purchase things that help Canadians live a “greener life.” This program was billed by the Conservatives as a “loyalty-card” style system that you see from other retailers.
The O’Toole carbon tax was criticized by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Defending conscience rights for healthcare workers
During the leadership election, O’Toole’s platform stated that he would use legislation to protect the rights of healthcare workers to not have to refer patients for medical procedures that violated their conscience, specifically surrounding abortion and medically assisted dying. The platform stated, “Through legislation, protecting the conscience rights of all health care professionals whose beliefs, religious or otherwise, prevent them from carrying out or referring patients for services that violate their conscience.”
The Conservative party platform for the general election also committed to protecting the conscience rights of healthcare professionals, but O’Toole walked it back when faced with media questions, insisting instead that healthcare practitioners must refer patients for abortions even if it violates their own conscience.
The leadership election provided O’Toole an opportunity to appeal directly to Alberta voters. He made it clear that the equalization formula as it stands is not fair to Alberta and that they shouldn’t have to send money to other provinces when they are in a recession.
O’Toole’s leadership election platform stated “A province with an economy in recession and a skyrocketing unemployment rate should not be forced to send money to other provinces.”
O’Toole’s national campaign however struck a different tone. O’Toole campaigned hard in Quebec and only committed two sentences of his platform to equalization, saying “We will add fairness to Equalization by adopting the Equalization and Transfers Fairness Act as a government bill and passing it as quickly as possible. This will add transparency to Equalization.”
While the Conservatives still won nearly all Alberta seats, they lost 14 percent of the provincial vote share, going from 69% of the provincial vote in 2019 down to just over 55% in 2021, even losing a couple of seats in the process to the Liberals and NDP.
Free votes for caucus members on matters of conscience
During the leadership race, O’Toole attacked Peter MacKay in an email blast to his supporters saying that MacKay wouldn’t allow MPs to vote their conscience on moral issues, after MacKay indicated he would expect members of his cabinet to fall in line on such matters. O’Toole vowed to “never whip any Member of Parliament, be they in cabinet or the backbench, on moral issues.”
O’Toole’s leadership campaign was asked to define “moral issues” and described them as “issues of moral conscience that can include a diverse range of deeply-held personal convictions.”
During the federal election campaign, O’Toole said every Conservative candidate fully backed his platform and that if they didn’t they wouldn’t be allowed to sit as a Conservative MP saying, “If there are candidates who don’t support it—or any other part of Canada’s Recovery Plan—they won’t be sitting in the caucus of a future Conservative government.” When asked if this was a reversal of his position on conscience rights, O’Toole didn’t give a clear answer.
Jonas Smith was disqualified as Conservative candidate after voicing opposition to mandatory vaccines in the workplace and the implementation of vaccine passports.