Source: Facebook

The Conservatives lost the last federal election by being on the “wrong side of public opinion on the vaccine mandate issue,” former leader Erin O’Toole says.

In an appearance before the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference, O’Toole, who led the Conservatives in the 2021 election, attributed his loss to the mandate debate.

O’Toole told the commission that Justin Trudeau called the election because the Conservatives’ position on mandates was unpopular.

The Conservative position in August 2021, when the last election was called, was that the COVID-19 vaccines should not be mandated for public transportation. Instead, unvaccinated people should’ve been required to show a “recent negative test result” or pass a rapid test to be able to board a bus, train, plane or ship.

O’Toole encouraged vaccination while also accusing the Liberals of politicizing the issue.

Some former Conservative supporters switched their vote to the People’s Party of Canada, which received nearly 5% of the vote in 2021—the highest percentage since the party’s founding. 

“When you consider it was a pandemic election, we were largely on the wrong side of public opinion on the vaccine mandate issue,” O’Toole said.

He said his team saw the vote changing largely due to that single issue. At the time of the election, O’Toole also faced criticism from within the party for flip-flopping on key issues, including the carbon tax, gun bans and defunding the CBC.

O’Toole’s 2021 campaign manager did not respond to a request for comment from True North.

Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, told True North he disagrees with O’Toole’s explanation.

“He didn’t win because he was not a conservative. He was a liberal light,” Bernier said. “He supported a carbon tax like the Liberals. He supported mass immigration like the Liberals. He supported all the COVID hysteria and vaccine passport, like the Liberals.”

He said O’Toole was too close to Trudeau supporting policies Bernier calls “draconian.”

“O’Toole was like Trudeau, promoting the vaccine, promoting the mandates, promoting the draconian measures, telling people to stay at home, shutting down the economy,” he said.

O’Toole told the commission that in the campaign’s last few days, the party went from winning the projected seat count a week before the election with a “small modest minority” to losing the seat count on election day but winning the popular vote.

The Conservative party won 119 seats in the last election, with 34% of the popular vote, compared to the Liberal party’s 160 seats and 33% of the vote overall.

In the commission, he testified that he thought five to nine seats were possibly changed because of foreign interference, but election interference wasn’t what ultimately cost him the election.