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The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has elected a new leader after an unconventional leadership campaign taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic. After substantial delays in announcing the results, due to technical issues damaging thousands of ballots, Erin O’Toole was elected leader on the third and final ballot with 57% of the votes.

The election results, which finally came in the early hours this morning, were eight months in the making, following Andrew Scheer’s resignation as leader in December 2019. The leadership race was suspended as a result of COVID-19 concerns and ultimately transitioned to an August election from the initial June 27 election date.

Originally from Quebec, Erin O’Toole has served as the Member of Parliament for Durham since 2012. In 2017, O’Toole ran in the Conservative leadership race to replace Stephen Harper, but placed third. He was previously Minister of Veterans Affairs (2015), Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade (2013 – 2015) and the Opposition critic for Foreign Affairs (2017 – 2020).

As the results were announced, region by region, it was clear that O’Toole, who ran as a “True Blue Conservative”, picked up massive support from formidable first-time candidate and social conservative, Leslyn Lewis. With none of the leadership candidates hailing from Western Canada, one of O’Toole’s top priorities will be uniting the party both regionally and ideologically, while balancing the social and progressive conservative views. Typically, a leader would have months to travel the country, glad-handing their way through the BBQ circuit to prepare for the next election, however, O’Toole must do all of this in a global pandemic and with just four weeks before the minority government returns.

O’Toole’s health care platform

Compared to the other leadership candidates, O’Toole ran on a platform with a number of health care commitments aimed at “fostering innovation, ensuring that Canadians get access to the latest technologies, and helping ensure that provinces have access to the funding and trained professionals they need to deliver care to Canadians”.

O’Toole’s plan for health care includes:

  • Providing stable and predictable funding while respecting the fact that health care is a provincial responsibility and the federal government should not be telling the provinces how to run their systems.
  • Augmenting international recruitment of health care workers to attract skilled professionals to Canada, while working with provincial governments to ensure that those with the skills we need are not prevented from working in their professions.
  • Diversifying our supply chains for critical supplies like pharmaceuticals, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and PPE to reduce our reliance on totalitarian regimes and make Canada more self-sufficient.
  • Speeding up the approval of new medications and health technologies, so that Canadians get access to life-saving innovation.
  • Convening a Royal Commission on the Pandemic within 100 days of taking office to ensure that all lessons learned from the crisis are publicly aired and learnings can immediately be adopted. Canada must be better prepared for future threats.
  • Working with provincial governments to strengthen support for mental health across Canada.

Despite having an overall vision for health care in Canada, O’Toole’s platform and plan is quite broad, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to influence the next CPC election platform. Stakeholders should begin engaging early with the new leader and staff, as a fall/winter election seems to be looming.

How will a new CPC leader impact the governing Liberals?

Erin O’Toole becomes the Conservative leader in an especially unique moment in Canada’s political history. Just last week, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau stepped down and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland assumed the role, becoming the first woman to become Finance Minister at the federal level in Canada. The Liberals also prorogued Parliament, concluding this Parliamentary session. This pause concludes all committee work, including the ethics investigation into the WE Charity scandal.

Parliament will return on September 23 with a Speech from the Throne followed by a series of confidence votes. In a minority government situation, if the Liberals fail to secure support from another opposition party on their plan for economic recovery after COVID-19 and their anticipated spending plans, we can expect a fall election. The Liberals will also have to introduce and pass legislation for the final extension of the CERB, a transition into enhanced EI, and other recovery benefits.

Influential Conservative MPs have critiqued Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government’s recent decisions. The NDP also stated that they are prepared for a fall election. This poses a significant opportunity for O’Toole and the Conservatives, keeping in mind the party reported a landmark 269,469 Conservative members back in July and the highest Q1 fundraising results.

Where do we go from here?

This morning’s announcement is just the first step for the Conservatives, as they prepare for the return of Parliament in September. For many Canadians, who are focused on COVID-19 recovery in their own communities, as well as preparing to send their children back to school, a number of questions still remain unanswered. As 2020 seems to be coming to an end rather rapidly, we have yet to see a federal budget, with only a brief indication from previous Finance Minister Bill Morneau that we would see some sort of economic update this fall. Those plans have likely changed. We also don’t know what health care priorities will move forward, especially as the government and most Canadians prepare for a second wave of COVID-19.

To help you make sense of the recent changes in Ottawa, join Santis Health’s upcoming webinar on September 9, as we unpack the last few weeks and put forward our thoughts on what to expect next.