Canada's Conservatives pick Erin O'Toole to challenge Trudeau in next election

OTTAWA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party on Sunday (Aug 23) elected Mr Erin O’Toole, a former Cabinet minister and armed forces veteran, to be its new leader and the primary challenger to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Mr O’Toole replaces Mr Andrew Scheer, who failed to unseat Mr Trudeau in an election last year. He beat out second-place candidate Peter MacKay, who co-founded the Conservative Party in 2003, by a vote of 57 per cent to 43 per cent.

Mr O’Toole defeated three other candidates in a campaign overshadowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Almost 175,000 members voted by mail and the results were announced during a virtual convention broadcast from Ottawa.

The results were delayed for at least five hours due to mechanical problems with the machines opening the ballot envelopes.

While Mr Trudeau retained power, he was reduced to a minority government and is again embroiled in controversy.

With the Liberals planning to ramp up spending under a new finance minister and put their agenda to a vote in Parliament, the Conservatives will have a chance to try and topple them next month.

“Conservatives are united on one thing and that is a dislike of Justin Trudeau and a desire to not see him in office anymore,” pollster Shachi Kurl, executive director at the Angus Reid Institute, told Bloomberg.

Mr O’Toole, a 47-year-old father of two, describes himself as a”true blue Conservative” and has vowed to “put Canada first” while helping families and the economy recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Mr O’Toole was first elected to Parliament in 2012 and served as veterans affairs minister during the last year of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government in 2015.

He represents a suburban Ontario district in the vote-rich region around Toronto known as the 905 because of its telephone area code.

Though he served as Mr Scheer’s even-handed foreign affairs critic, Mr O’Toole tacked right to secure the Conservative leadership, winning the support of Alberta’s influential Premier Jason Kenney.

Social conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis had a strong showing in the race before dropping off in the second round.

Compared to Mr MacKay, Mr O’Toole “will be someone who’s a bit more the conscience of the grassroots,” Ms Kurl said.

But that “leaves the party with a challenge in moving to the centre,” she added.

Both candidates pledged major tax reform and tax breaks, and vowed to scrap Mr Trudeau’s national levy on carbon emissions.

Mr MacKay vowed to shake up rules on capital gains and chase down tax evaders. He also planned to extend a 100 per cent capital cost allowance for manufacturing and technology firms for another two years in hopes of bringing advanced manufacturing jobs back to Canada.

Mr O’Toole promised to tighten loopholes for the wealthiest Canadians and add a tax exemption for young people entering the labour force.

He also said he would eliminate the Liberal government’s C$11,000 (S$11,450) childcare tax deduction in favour of a refundable credit worth up to C$16,000.

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