LILLEY: Does O’Toole deserve a second chance?

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Does Erin O’Toole get another chance to take on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals as Conservative leader?

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If any leader is being questioned about his or her abilities after this election campaign, they all should be questioned because each one failed in some ways.

The focus, though, seems to be on O’Toole and the idea that because he lost the election, he must now walk the plank. It didn’t used to be this way in Canadian politics.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier took over the reins of the Liberal Party in 1887 and didn’t become prime minister until 1896. A little more recently, Robert Stanfield became Conservative leader in 1967 and lost elections in 1968, 1972 and 1974 before stepping down.

While giving leaders more than one kick at the can used to be the norm, that appears to be on its way out.

Are we moving to an American-style primary system of one and done?

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The Liberals definitely did that with Trudeau’s two predecessors, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Both of those men it could be argued took the party lower, much lower than it had been.

O’Toole has come in near where his immediate predecessor Andrew Scheer finished in the last election. Slightly lower in popular vote and slightly lower in seat count — but close. Scheer, of course, was forced out and now some want O’Toole to go.

The arguments are blunt at times, but amount to him not doing enough.

Bert Chen, currently a member of the Conservative National Council, called me Tuesday morning to say that O’Toole had to go. His reason, he said, was O’Toole didn’t deal with the People’s Party of Canada properly.

The easy thinking on the Conservative loss is that they lost votes to Maxime Bernier’s PPC and without that, would have won. Let’s be clear, with 5% of the national vote total, the PPC did better than last time but still didn’t win a seat.

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Did the PPC cause the Conservatives to lose some seats?

That’s a difficult prediction to make. While most PPC voters, perhaps as many as half, were disgruntled Conservative voters, the rest came from other parties or hadn’t been engaged in politics before. You can’t assume all those votes would have moved over.

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There appear to be several ridings in Ontario and British Columbia in particular that may have gone Conservative were it not for the PPC, but not enough to give the Conservatives the win.

To win, O’Toole needed a breakthrough in Toronto and its suburbs, and that didn’t happen. Of the 53 ridings deemed part of the Toronto area, O’Toole and the Conservatives only took five of them. The voters they needed, especially suburban women, turned away.

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The NDP vote in the Toronto area, especially the suburbs, collapsed with voters either not showing up or falling in line with the Liberals.

In Vancouver, the Conservatives lost seats they needed to hold, again, not capturing suburban women. To gain power, they need to find a way to appeal to these groups.

This inability to connect with these voters had a bigger impact than the PPC.

  1. Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole (right) speaks with retired general Rick Hillier, former chief of defence staff, while campaigning in Kitchener on Sept. 18, 2021.

    LILLEY: A vote like no other we’ve seen before

  2.  Erin O'Toole, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, addresses reporters' questions during a campaign stop in on September 18, 2021 in Dundas, Ontario, Canada.

    LILLEY: Vote for O’Toole, not just against Trudeau

  3. A photo of Justin Trudeau at West Point Grey Academy's 2001

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There was not one issue that lost the election for the Conservatives, there were many. From O’Toole’s position on climate change, guns, and the lingering issue of vaccinations among candidates, the Conservative message didn’t resonate.

The lesson for the Conservatives in this election is not to tack harder right or become Liberals in blue, it’s that the message delivered must be clear, and it must be appealing.

O’Toole and his team want to fight to stay on for the next election. Given that the next campaign could be mere months away, that would be the wise thing to do.

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