Can Erin O’Toole’s Biceps Curl the Conservatives to Victory?

The “Man With the Plan” is promising cheap meals and other ways to recover from the pandemic. Here’s everything you need to know about voting for Erin O’Toole.
August 18, 2021, 3:37pm
Conservative Party Leader ​Erin O'Toole hopes to win voters over with a month-long GST holiday.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole hopes to win voters over with a month-long GST holiday. Photo by David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Second in a series of political party profiles for the 2021 Canadian federal election. Read about the Liberals here.

Hot off the presses, Erin O’Toole’s big ol’ crossed arms graced the cover of a Conservative Party of Canada platform that could be mistaken for a Men’s Health magazine on the first full day of the election campaign. 

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The CPC deserves credit. It’s rare for a party to unveil its platform so quickly, even if the cover photo and tagline set a cringeworthy tone. (The Man With the Plan? Really?) Despite the party’s vocal objections to the snap election, it’s clear the CPC was ready to roll before the writ dropped. 

The inside pages cover a lot of ground, from low-brow pandering about how Ottawa bullies Alberta and how the “Chinese communist party” is out to destroy us, to promises of a GST holiday and a surprisingly ambitious housing plan.

Although the CPC was ruthlessly mocked on social media over the past week for O’Toole’s awkward cover pose and an embarrassing, since-deleted attack ad that put Liberal leader Justin Trudeau into a scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, one poll shows the party gained almost 5 per cent support in four weeks while the governing Liberals lost 6 percent–putting the two parties just five points apart.

O’Toole grabbed headlines out of the gate this week by opposing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for travellers and pledging to trash Trudeau’s $10-a-day child care program. 

Economy and jobs

The CPC is proposing a month-long “GST holiday” this fall, when all retail store purchases will be free of the Goods and Services Tax in a bid to stimulate spending. A “dine and discover” program, meanwhile, will give diners a 50 percent rebate for dine-in food purchased from Monday to Wednesday, once a month, “once it is safe to do so.”

While O’Toole slammed Trudeau for spending too much on the Canada Economic Recovery Benefit, the $2,000 a month for out-of-work Canadians during the pandemic, his party plans to pay businesses up to 50 percent of the salaries of new hires for six months following the end of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. 

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For workers, noting 1.7 million Canadians do temporary, independent work with no safety net, the CPC pledges to make “gig economy” companies contribute to a new Employee Savings Account equivalent to Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance programs. The money will be available to workers when they need it, similar to EI. 

The CPC will follow Alberta and Ontario by appointing a Minister Responsible for Red Tape Reduction, as well as creating an Office of Regulatory Best Practice to evaluate the costs of new regulation, which sounds like… a lot of red tape.

Climate change and environment

Hell will freeze over before Conservatives take climate change seriously in Canada. In March, CPC delegates voted against a proposal to recognize the climate crisis is real. 

The CPC platform feigns concern about the environment, even including a sad photo of a polar bear walking on ice, but comes off more interested in the dying gasps of oil lobbyists than the dwindling habitats of majestic animals. 

The party pledges to “eliminate the unfairness” of Bill C-69, which allows the federal government to consider how new resource projects will affect climate change. The CPC will also end the ban on shipping traffic on the north coast of British Columbia and prioritize building pipelines that export Canadian oil.

In a fun, libertarian twist on the carbon tax, the conservatives propose a “personal low carbon savings account” that consumers will pay into when they buy hydrocarbon-based fuel. Instead of going to the government, the money will go into a personal account consumers can put towards environmentally friendly purchases like a bike, a transit pass, or an electric car.

Indigenous affairs

O’Toole put his foot in his mouth last December on a Zoom call with Ryerson University’s campus conservative club when he derided a “woke” campaign that aims to rename the university because its namesake helped create the residential school system. O’Toole said residential schools were designed to “provide education” to Indigenous kids before they became “horrible.” He later apologized and renounced his comments. 

The CPC promises a comprehensive plan to implement Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action 71 through 76, which involve working with First Nations to document, maintain, and commemorate residential school grave sites. The party pledges to end drinking water advisories on First Nations, but does not offer details on how it will succeed where the Liberals have struggled for six years. 

COVID and health care

O’Toole went hard criticizing the Liberal government’s early vaccine rollout, suggesting he could negotiate with pharmaceutical companies better than Trudeau could. While the rollout did start slowly, Canada is now a world leader.

On Monday, the CPC leader came out in opposition to the federal government’s mandatory vaccination policy for federal public servants and travellers, saying he would instead require them to pass a rapid COVID-19 test before going to work or boarding a plane, train, or ship.

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O’Toole has sparred with Trudeau over a New Brunswick abortion clinic, saying he would not pressure provinces to fund abortions. The CPC promises not to support any legislation to regulate abortion. 

The party promises a Mental Health Action Plan to address mental health and addiction issues worsened by the pandemic. The plan will include a nationwide three-digit mental health hotline, a tax credit for employers offering mental health benefits, and a $150 million pilot program offering grants to charities and nonprofits delivering mental health and wellness programming. 

Crime and security

The Conservative platform states ominously, “All too often, we have taken our peace, security, and prosperity for granted. We no longer have that luxury.” 

Citing threats to Canada’s arctic sovereignty from Russia and China, O’Toole plans to develop a new arctic naval base in Churchill, Manitoba, and deploy autonomous vehicles for air and sea surveillance up north.

Conservatives will also target protesters and Indigenous land defenders at home, by making it a crime to block infrastructure facilities or public transportation. The move is a response to rail blockades organized last year in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en First Nation hereditary chiefs, who opposed a pipeline being built on their traditional territory in British Columbia.

Housing

O’Toole’s party came out of nowhere Monday with a lofty promise to build 1 million homes in the next three years to help address Canada’s housing crisis. By contrast, the left-of-centre NDP have pledged 500,000 homes over 10 years—though NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says those homes will be affordable. 

The Conservatives would release some federal-owned real estate for housing, explore turning unused office space into homes, and require municipalities to increase density around federally funded public transit projects. 

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The CPC is also promising to ban foreign investors not living in or moving to Canada from buying homes in the country for at least a two-year period.

Drugs

O’Toole said he does not support serious penalties for drug possession, favouring harm reduction, but he doesn’t support decriminalization either. His middle-of-the-road position is a stark contrast from former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who introduced mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes only to have them struck down by the Supreme Court.

O’Toole has no problem promoting alcohol, however, pledging to eliminate the Liberals’ “escalator tax” that raises excise duty taxes annually on beer, wine, and spirits.

Student issues

The CPC platform vaguely promises to promote “free speech on campus,” by working with provinces and territories to “ensure that public post-secondary institutions accommodate the range of perspectives that make up Canada,” whatever that means.

The 160-page document mentions the word “student” twice, and only in passing. By contrast, the word “communist” comes up six times.

Foreign policy and immigration

O’Toole, a former Canadian Forces captain, slammed Trudeau Monday for being unprepared to deal with the masses evacuating from Afghanistan as the Taliban takes hold of the country. 

The Conservative leader is generally strict on immigration, vowing to end “illegal” border crossings and unofficial entry points and work with the U.S. to set up joint border patrols in high-traffic areas.

Staunchly pro-Israel, he has been criticized for plans to follow former U.S. president Donald Trump by moving Canada’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Women

O’Toole said Monday if elected he would throw out the Liberals’ $30 billion national daycare program that will provide affordable child care. Instead, the CPC would offer low-income parents refundable tax credits, which the party is framing as giving parents choice while still helping more women “to participate in the workforce.”

Miscellaneous

Erin O’Toole must really love his dog Wexford, because the CPC platform has a whole section on animal welfare. If elected, the party promises to ban puppy mills and cosmetic testing on animals. 

Best-case scenario

Liberal voters, annoyed by the early election call in the middle of a fourth wave of COVID-19, lose their fuzzy feelings for Trudeau and don’t bother to show up at the polls. Singh fails to inspire the left, and O’Toole’s populist bribes of GST-free days and half-price meals convince some swing voters to give him a chance. The CPC ekes out a majority. 

Worst-case scenario

O’Toole’s attempt at looking like a relatable guy who exercises and wears T-shirts is not enough to substitute charisma. The party’s limp climate plan, rigid stance on Israel, and nods to anti-vaxxers lose the centre-right vote, leaving the CPC with fewer seats under a Liberal majority. O’Toole resigns and is forever remembered for his ironically iconic magazine cover.

Follow Kevin Maimann on Twitter.