Canada’s Tory party left reeling after dismal performance in federal election

The results raise questions about the future of Erin O’Toole’s party, which has lost ground under conservative and liberal candidates

  • Canada election 2021: full results

The head of Canada’s Conservatives has ordered a review of the party’s dismal performance in Monday’s federal election amid growing questions over the future direction of the party – and his future as its leader.

A chastened Erin O’Toole has said that he and his team were “clearly disappointed” by the outcome of Monday’s vote.

“While we didn’t get the results we had hoped for, I am proud of our team for holding the Liberals to a minority in this pandemic election,” he said, adding that the review would look at how the party could “win the trust next time”.

The loss marks the Conservative’s third straight loss to the Liberals in a federal election, with a pronounced failure to make headway in large cities.

“We need to determine why we lost major ground in the [Greater Toronto Area] and Metro Vancouver. We owe it [to] our party volunteers, donors, members and activists to critically examine every aspect of the campaign,” Mark Strahl, a re-elected Conservative in British Columbia wrote on Twitter, adding that the party “lost a solid, diverse group” of lawmakers on Monday.

Only weeks before, polling had suggested the Conservatives were pulling ahead of the Liberals and even had a shot at forming a government.

The campaign was soon put on the defensive, however, over O’Toole’s unclear stance on banning assault-style rifles. He also faced growing criticism and questions after not requiring Conservative candidates to be vaccinated – even as he promised to increase vaccine rates across the country to 90%.

“One of the problems that Mr O’Toole faces is the problem of authenticity. This is true for Canadians who are paying attention – but it’s particularly true for his base,” said Stéphanie Chouinard, a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada.

O’Toole, a former air force navigator, ran as a “true blue” conservative during the 2020 leadership election, hoping to appeal to more socially conservative factions of the party.

But he quickly pivoted to the centre, advertising himself as a moderate leader, an ally to the LGBTQ community who was pro-choice on abortion and often highlighted the need to fight the climate crisis. Much to the frustration of his base, he also put a price on emissions, though repeatedly refused to call it a “carbon tax”.

“We’re not your dad’s Conservative party any more,” he often told supporters.

“This was a good strategy in order to gain the Conservative leadership. And I know why he tried to pull his party towards the centre during this campaign. Some of the ideological leanings of a sizable part of his party – on abortion, LGBTQ rights, the environment and gun control – are just not palatable to the average Canadian,” said Chouinard.

But the results raise broader questions about the future of O’Toole’s party, which has seen consecutive losses under socially conservative and socially progressive candidates.

If the party opts to turf out O’Toole and hold a leadership race, Chouinard suspects a rightwing candidate would probably win.

“But a shift to the right means totally alienating urban voters, as well as the vast majority of Quebec,” she said. “This is becoming a real problem for the conservatives.”

While the party had success in the Prairies and made inroads in the Atlantic provinces, the vast majority of electoral districts – and the path to a parliamentary majority – lie in Quebec and Ontario.

Greater Toronto has far more electoral seats up for grabs than the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador combined. And as of Monday, the Liberals swept virtually all races in the region.

In his concession speech on Monday, O’Toole said he remained committed to the party’s goals – and repeatedly warned that another election was on the horizon.

“That speech, brandishing the threat of another election, was really him pleading to get a second shot,” said Chouinard. “Whether he’ll be able to sell that idea to a fringe of his party, a group that’s rather mad at the campaign that he ran … is going to be a tough sell.”

Contributor

Leyland Cecco in Toronto

The GuardianTramp

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