Erin O’Toole’s economic improvement plans are getting a thumbs up in Red Deer — but some question if the new Conservative Party of Canada leader has enough broad appeal to become prime minister.
Reg Warkentin, the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce’s policy and government affairs manager, met O’Toole in 2017 and recalled, “He seemed very capable, very passionate about issues. He spent a lot of time listening.”
During that visit, O’Toole heard about the economic plight of central Alberta “and he seemed to care,” said Warkentin, who looks forward to hearing more about his economic platforms.
O’Toole, who won a surprising upset over MacKay on the weekend, is a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and a lawyer, who got into politics in a 2012 byelection.
He was former veterans affairs minister in Stephen Harper’s government, and came in third in the 2017 Conservative party leadership race won by Andrew Scheer.
The chamber of commerce supports O’Toole’s position to scrap Bill C-69, which changed how major infrastructure projects are reviewed and approved in Canada.
Warkentin favours O’Toole’s strategy to fetch higher energy prices and seek more markets for liquified natural gas, and remove a “tanker ban” that prohibits ships carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of crude oil from stopping at various B.C. ports.
But Red Deer’s former mayor, Morris Flewwelling, noted O’Toole courted members at the right of the Conservative party to win by 59 per cent of the vote.
By focusing on one branch of the party, O’Toole will have to narrow his views, when a broader perspective would serve the party better in creating the inclusive “big tent” culture that appeals to a wider range of voters, Flewwelling explained.
“I am disappointed … I was thinking Peter MacKay (would win). He was the front-runner, had the experience, and was the most progressive of the bunch,” said Flewwelling, who believes most Canadians still want a collaborative government that “moves more towards the middle” on policies.
O’Toole’s win “leaves us with no progressive conservatives. The concept has been wiped out and I wonder whether most Canadians want that,” said Flewwelling.
Earl Dreeshen, MP for Red Deer-Mountain View, is confident O’Toole is knowledgeable about Alberta’s oil and gas sector and will fight for its recovery. He believes the party can broaden its support base under O’Toole.
“I’ve listened to his speach, I know him as an individual, and I believe he can lead our party forward, (and foster) a more open and caring party.”
While Dreeshen did not openly support a candidate during the leadership campaign, he believes O’Toole “has the ability to hit the ground running as we move toward our goal to continue earning the trust of Canadians and forming government in the next election.”
Blaine Calkins, MP for Red Deer-Lacombe, supported MacKay’s leadership bid. But he knows O’Toole will “work hard to unite not only Conservatives, but all Canadians. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are mired in allegations of corruption and are failing Canadians every single day…
“I know that Erin will bring us all together to defeat them in the next election,” said Calkins.
Jim Foster, a retired Red Deer judge and former minister in Peter Lougheed’s government, had also supported MacKay and hoped for a progressive conservative Party leader.
“I’m not unhappy with O’Toole,” said Foster, but party members will have to get to know him.
“Platforms can be filled out with platitudes and generalities that don’t mean a lot. Character is what it’s all about and there’s been very little that I’ve read about him.”