Thanks to a letter-opening machine that started slicing up ballots, it was only at 2am Monday that Erin O’Toole was finally announced as the winner of the Conservative leadership race. O’Toole’s victory was foreshadowed when the first ballot was finally counted. Peter MacKay, who many saw as the frontrunner, only scored 33.5 Percent of the first ballot vote—less than two points ahead of O’Toole. Observers had predicted that MacKay would need at least 40 percent of the first ballot vote to hold off O’Toole who, as predicted, gained strength in the second and third ballots.
The big surprise was the showing of lawyer Leslyn Lewis– a political newcomer. Her family immigrated to Canada from Jamaica when she was five. She has practised law for nearly 20 years and has multiple degrees, including a master’s degree in environmental studies and a PhD from Osgoode Hall law school. A social conservative, she would have become the first Black woman to lead a Canadian national political party. She has said she decided to run to promote party unity and national unity, and wants the Conservative Party to be a “big-tent party” where people are free to hold divergent beliefs. It was her strength on the first ballot that denied both MacKay and O’Toole a first ballot victory, and when it came to the third ballot the majority of her supporters preferred O’Toole who was seen as more in line with her socially conservative views.
While born in Montreal, O’Toole only speaks rudimentary French. Yan Plante, a director at Quebec-based public affairs agency TACT and a former senior Conservative staffer, said O’Toole had a slight edge in French proficiency over his rivals, but not at the level of either outgoing leader Andrew Scheer or former leader Stephen Harper.
Said Plante, “If the expectation is to win 35 seats (in Quebec), that’s going to be very complicated. If the expectation is to win 10 to 15 seats, I think there’s enough skill there that, with a bit of work over the next year or so, it can bring (O’Toole) to an acceptable level to at least keep what (the party) has right now.”
O’Toole’s task now will be to introduce himself to a Canadian public two-thirds of whom in a recent poll said they didn’t know him well enough to form an opinion.