By Patrick Meagher and Connor Lynch
The new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is from an East-Central Ontario riding with a significant number of farmers who know little about him but like what they see.
There are about 5,000 farms in Durham region, home to Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative Party leader elected last month. The region is mostly rural, running from Lake Scugog in the north to Bowmanville and Lake Ontario in the south.
Nestleton crop farmer Dave Frew knew O’Toole’s father, local MPP John O’Toole, and says the son is more polished, more at ease and makes people feel at home.
The father “was one of the best MPPs you could have,” said Frew. “Erin is like his dad, only smoother, more comfortable, more polished. He is different than (former Conservative Prime Minister) Harper. He’s warm. He is someone who would come to your kitchen table and have a coffee. He makes others feel comfortable. He comes from a family you would love to have as a neighbour.”
When he campaigned in the last federal election, O’Toole rented a small motorhome and parked it up and down his riding. He called area members to invite locals to visit him.
Drew adds that O’Toole, 47, is “ smart. He does his homework. If you try to put him in a corner you better be prepared. He’s going to straighten you out pretty quick.”
A CBC radio reporter found that out. When he challenged O’Toole on cutting funding for CBC, O’Toole replied that he would not cut funding for radio. “What we want to do with English television is privatize it. What we don’t need is Canadians spending millions of dollars to create the Family Feud Canada edition. Is that where Canadian dollars really should be going? The ratings show that very view Canadians watch CBC. Why should 100 per cent of it (be subsidized)?”
That part of the interview was edited out of the broadcast.
Lindsay-area crop farmer Joe Hickson met O’Toole briefly a few years ago. “I like the gentleman,” Hickson said. “I think he’s got a level head on his shoulders. I am a Conservative. I think he has the potential of turning things around. We’re gone too Goddamned socialist.”
Lindsay area cash crop farmer Bruce Webster said he knows very little about O’Toole. “He can’t be any worse than what we’ve got,” Webster said. “Trudeau gave 10 times what he gave agriculture (in emergency COVID funding) to drama and culture and you can’t eat that stuff.”
Farther east in Prince Edward County, crop farmer Lloyd Crowe and his wife are Conservative party members. Both voted for O’Toole.
Crowe asked O’Toole about the carbon tax at a virtual townhall meeting. “He promised to eliminate it,” Crowe said. “This is near and dear to my heart and many other farmers.”
O’Toole’s website is unequivocal. He states: “I will fight the carbon tax with every last breath.”
Crowe said he liked the new leader’s casual style of talking without political jargon. He added that O’Toole “went on about farmers, how important they are (and he’s in) kind of a rural district too.”
O’Toole is a former captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He is also a lawyer and has been an MP for eight years. He speaks French, which is largely why he did well in Quebec. Quebec and social conservatives were the kingmakers in the leadership race. The Socons punished runner up Peter MacKay for calling Scheer’s pro-life views a “stinking albatross” around his neck.
O’Toole is pro-abortion but says he would allow free votes on the issue. He would also end Ottawa’s war against the oil and gas industries and build pipelines. He wants to end the 2020 firearm ban and move away from dependence on intellectual–property– stealing China.