The challenge of change
The trouble with Erin O’Toole is his job title: Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. As long as the Conservative leader retains that role, he won’t get any respect from the Ottawa press corps. I know whereof I speak. After all, I was press secretary to Robert Stanfield from 1970-1975 through two losing elections, back in the day when it was the Progressive Conservative Party. As Stanfield once said, “If I walked on water across the Rideau Canal, the headlines would read, ‘Stanfield can’t swim.’”
That’s because most journalists then and now are left of centre, more likely to give positive coverage to the Liberals or New Democrats. Finding divisions among the members of O’Toole’s caucus is their daily delight. The dismissal of an MP who accepted a $131 campaign donation from a questionable source is just one example of how little things can end up meaning a lot.
But O’Toole does himself harm because he hasn’t put forward a consistent message. On Friday night his address to the party policy convention was filled with high-falutin’ rhetoric about change. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what exactly he wanted to change. Or more important, what he wanted to change to. As for climate change, the Luddites in his party even rejected the milquetoast phrase, “Climate change is real. “
O’Toole’s speech was likely the first time many Canadians heard anything directly from him. What a missed opportunity. I believe that an opposition party doesn’t win an election based on its policies. They come to power because the voters decide that the current bunch needs to be thrown out. O’Toole should have spent much of his address reminding people of the Liberal Party’s failures. He could have cited Justin Trudeau’s holiday travel, the WE scandal, the inability to choose an appropriate Governor General or head of the Armed Forces and the laggardly COVID-19 vaccine program. Voters need to be shaken loose from their previous support of the government and put in a mood to jettison them and embrace another. Only then will Erin O’Toole stand a chance of winning. Presuming that he has along the way won over his own recalcitrant MPs.