Insiders think a Conservative victory is a long shot. Is Erin O’Toole’s leadership in danger, too?

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With victory on Monday increasingly appearing impossible, some within Erin O’Toole’s campaign are focused on saving her leadership if Justin Trudeau wins a third straight election.

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The Conservatives are voting side by side with the Liberal Party at the national level, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The perceived collapse of the Green Party, which could shift votes to the Liberals, and the rise of Maxim Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, which is shifting votes away from the Conservatives, have made it difficult to see how O’Toole out. May win.

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In Ontario’s close, those two factors could mean the difference between a Conservative victory or a Liberal upset based on vote division.

Now, some close to his campaign are gaming what Monday could mean for O’Toole’s own job.

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That task is made more difficult by the radical changes O’Toole introduced to Conservative Party conservatism—such as the decision to put a price on carbon and the current ban on certain types of guns.

“The question is: if we don’t succeed in this election … what will the caucus have to do to keep the caucus aligned with the changes?” A conservative source close to the campaign said on Friday.

“…So, what chiefs will he need in exchange for him to stay the course until Trudeau has another election next year?”

That source, like more than a dozen others who spoke to Starr for this story, only shared his thoughts on the condition that he would not be identified.

The problem for O’Toole is that he made this campaign largely about himself.

At the start of the August campaign, the Tories set their sights on the 55 seats they thought could win and hold a majority.

He’s now dialed that back, with a chance to pick up two dozen more than the 119 he held at the start of the campaign.

With Elections Canada warning of a delay expected on Monday, expectations are being tempered further.

The Tories know that staunch supporters will stand in line for hours to cling to Trudeau, but the campaign says what they hear at the door is soft support: people disappointed with Trudeau, but not sure whether they want O’Toole Ready to give a chance.

Several local campaign sources, all speaking confidentially, told the Star that the campaign’s struggle to recruit enough volunteers meant the campaign did not have its usual strengths in a generally strong vote-out-the-vote effort. , and if there are long lines at polling stations then people can just give up and go home.

The O’Toole team’s ability to run out of votes during the leadership race—whether it’s going door-to-door with a photocopier or driving hours in Quebec to pick up only a handful of ballots—credited him with handing out his victory. Went last August.

If he fails now, some say, it will be poetic justice because he has turned his back on many members from the day he won.

After a few minutes, he broke the divisive and hard-right rhetoric of his leadership campaign to establish himself as an integrator who would appeal to all, and work in that direction began immediately. .

Stephen Harper was the key player of the years, who was replaced with O’Toole’s allies to direct the party as he wished, both operationally and on policy.

O’Toole’s strategy has been to go as far from Harper’s point of view as possible; Scheer had tried to be “Stephen Harper with a smile”, and while the party won the popular vote and saw its number of seats increase, it did not seal the deal and dropped Trudeau altogether.

So enter O’Toole, “The Man with the Plan,” a pro-choice leader who, with the guy from ‘Burb’s backstory, uses his military discipline to put a package before voters outside the confines of modern traditional conservatism. takes advantage.

“The Liberals were always afraid of Erin O’Toole,” said a conservative source close to the O’Toole campaign.

“They showed in this election that they only know how to run a sort of campaign against conservatives – scaremongering about abortion, guns, and two-tier health care. It’s not effective against O’Toole, except we have Not really the time to establish her character’s identity with Canadians.”

Except O’Toole has done himself little favor in that regard.

His messages on guns, on abortion, and on two-tier health care have been muddled or downright contradictory, and for conservatives in the heartland, it’s a lot of heartache.

At the door to the west, they hear Trudeau’s anger, but the second and third questions are always about O’Toole – why does he succumb to guns, and what happened to getting rid of the carbon tax?

It was considered necessary to have a solid plan on climate – by O’Toole himself – if he was going to fulfill a promise he made during the leadership race: that he would distribute seats in the GTA because he is from the region.

He still thinks he can.

“On Monday, I know we will have more support in Ontario and in this country,” he said Friday during a halt in London, Ont.

In the Western ride, O’Toole’s flips on carbon pricing and guns are disappointing, but not fatal to the Tories who routinely walk away with 70 percent or more of the vote.

But they could be fatal to O’Toole’s chances of survival. It’s the riders’ members who are usually the dominant force at conventions and if the carbon price doesn’t do what it promised – deliver to voters in Ontario – they could turn it around faster than they think. .

Even before this election, some members of the party were so furious at O’Toole’s pivot on the climate that they began to look into the mechanism allowing a referendum in their constitution and set out to see if they Can take advantage of this so that the leadership review can be done faster. In a convention scheduled for two years from now, Starr has learned.

MPs will also have to decide in their first formal meeting whether they want to initiate a leadership review themselves.

In 2019, Scheer did not defeat Trudeau, but won the popular vote, and lawmakers decided not to initiate the process due to an increase in the party’s number of seats.

Instead, the shear gave up after becoming too much to bear the external pressure.

A senior Conservative operative said Friday that the party’s regressive tendencies are often more rash than rational.

“It’s not logical, it’s emotional,” said the veteran insider.

But Scheer also had a solid group of friends within the caucus.

It’s unclear whether O’Toole does as well, pointing to two examples he poisoned the well: supporting leadership rival and Tory MP Derek Sloan in the caucuses, but then turfing after the leadership and his Keeping lawmakers in the dark about their climate switcheroo.

It’s also how he’s campaigned, spending more time in virtual events at Ottawa studios in person with his lawmakers, and the rides he’s gone on, rarely naming his candidates. mentioned from.

Some people have to introduce themselves during those stops, or catch them before they can even jump on the bus to ask for a photo.

The party says the virtual campaign has worked because it exposes O’Toole to far more people and the heyday of whistle-stop driving local coverage is a chronological one in the era of targeted digital marketing.

But old-fashioned stumpings also motivate volunteers and make candidates feel part of something bigger, many campaign staff pointed out, and there’s a price to avoiding them.

“Kaho we do elections, what, 137? 140? (MPs), ”said a former MP, speaking confidentially as he now operates in a non-partisan role.

“That’s great but there will be 50 or 60 other people who felt hesitant during the election and neither they nor their people are going to be loyal to Erin.”

Although what will be the dominant question in political circles for O’Toole to remain as leader, it is not one that O’Toole is not yet ready to entertain.

He avoided a direct question on the subject, focusing on his closing pitch on Friday.

“People are upset that we are in a $600 million pandemic election, but there is a chance to vote on Monday for positive change for Canada,” he said.

“I’m asking Canadians to vote Conservative.”

Robert Benji Starr is Queens Park’s bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @ Stephanie Levitz
Alex Bautillier is an Ottawa-based reporter who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutlier
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