Kootenay Columbia MP Rob Morrison is throwing his support behind Ontario MP Erin O’Toole, who is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Morrison announced his support for O’Toole this past week, highlighting the candidate’s military service in the Royal Canadian Air Force and his experiences as a corporate lawyer in private sector and in the political arena.
“I think with his background and the fact the’s sitting in the House [of Commons] right now, we need a leader to help us and hold the government accountable,” said Morrison.
O’Toole, a military veteran and former cabinet minister who served under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is seeking the Tory leadership in a race against three other candidates — a somewhat less crowded field from the dozen that ran for the job after Harper resigned four years ago.
O’Toole came through the Kootenay-Columbia riding three years ago on an invitation from former Conservative MP David Wilks, who then had lent his endorsement in the leadership race won by Andrew Scheer. O’Toole was set to come through again earlier this year, but participated in a virtual campaign gathering due to COVID-19 travel concerns.
Speaking from Ottawa, O’Toole said he ‘hit it off’ right away with Morrison when the Kootenay-Columbia Conservative candidate captured the riding nomination ahead of the federal election last year.
“We got along really well from day one,” O’Toole said, in an interview Black Press Media.
The Conservative leadership campaign was briefly suspended as the Canada — and the world — reacted to the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, however, the race is now back on, with May 15 marked as the deadline to sign up members eligible to vote in the contest.
Running in the era of COVID-19 has changed the nature of O’Toole’s campaign, affecting plans to tour the country as well as revisiting and rewriting policy positions due to the impacts caused by the coronavirus.
“We were about to launch my policy document before the pandemic, so obviously we’ve had to redraft most major sections of that because our whole financial set of plans had to change after the economic conditions,” said O’Toole, who is also juggling parliamentary and Conservative Party caucus duties throughout his leadership campaign.
The Tory candidate field includes O’Toole, Peter MacKay, a former MP and cabinet minister, Derek Sloan, a lawyer and Ontario MP elected last year, and Leslyn Lewis, a Toronto-based lawyer.
MacKay, a longtime Conservative MP from Nova Scotia who has held numerous cabinet portfolios for well over a decade during the Harper era, stepped down from federal politics ahead of the 2015 election, and abstained from the Tory leadership race three years ago.
O’Toole pushed back against the perception of MacKay as the frontrunner, pointing to a near even split of endorsements from fellow Conservative MPs and using video technology to engage with party members virtually as a substitute for in-person grassroots tours.
“The early talk about the so-called coronation of Peter McKay back in January, we’re now winning on all measures and we’ve got momentum and we’re going to kick some butt,” O’Toole said. “So it’s great to have Rob’s support, we see eye to eye on a bunch of issues.”
Politics amidst a pandemic
Routines have been upended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the way business is conducted in the House of Commons is no exception.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been holding near-daily press conferences from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, and all federal parties have recently agreed to resume weekly parliamentary business with two virtual meetings and one in-person session with reduced attendance to maintain physical distancing directives.
Governing in the COVID-19 era been a challenge beyond the practicalities of sitting in the House of Commons, as the Liberals, with a minority government, must find support from other parties to pass legislation.
To date, billions of dollars in various relief programs in response to the economic impacts caused by the pandemic, ranging from wage subsidies, an emergency response benefit, support for students and seniors, among a slew of other initiatives.
O’Toole said he was ‘mocked’ for presenting a coronavirus plan in early March that included preparing the Employment Insurance (EI) system for workers who needed to quarantine, restricting travel and stepped up medical screening at airports and the Canada/U.S. border.
He also criticized the initial economic support package announced by the Liberals in March, and the government’s decision to use an individual emergency benefit for relief instead of preserving jobs through “hibernation” by providing more immediate support to employers and businesses.
“Spend a lot of money, put them in hibernation so we can have a quick V-shaped recovery as soon as we can stop the intense distancing kind of now,” O’Toole said. “Instead they put everyone on the benefit and now we’re going to have much more prolonged unemployment.”
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