Politics

O’Toole hangs in balance of Tories’ election-campaign review

A review of the Conservatives’ election campaign is underway, and how Leader Erin O’Toole responds could determine whether he keeps his position, strategists say.

After the Conservative Party of Canada’s first caucus meeting on Tuesday, O’Toole announced that defeated Edmonton Centre MP James Cumming will conduct a “360 review” of the Tory campaign. Former Harper-era cabinet minister Christian Paradis will help on the French-speaking side.

The review will likely examine the party’s ground game and organization, its messaging and digital campaign, and the effectiveness of the leader’s tour, said Kate Harrison, vice-chair of Summa Strategies and a former Conservative party staffer.

“There are a lot of components to this, but it all gets down to: Were voters considering us seriously, did we identify them, and then did we pull them out?” Harrison told iPolitics on Friday.

The Tories won 119 seats in the federal election on Sept. 20, two fewer than in 2019, when 121 MPs were elected under Andrew Scheer’s leadership.

READ MORE: The Tories can challenge O’Toole’s leadership in three ways

There should be an attempt to ask local campaign managers, as well as candidates who won and lost, whether they had appropriate resources to run and win, Harrison said.

Speaking to candidates who lost by narrow margins could determine “one thing” that might have closed the gap, she said.

The Conservatives lost 22 ridings by an average of just 1,473 votes, including two urban ridings in Edmonton. They also lost a seat in Calgary, as well as four seats in suburban Vancouver and two in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The reality is that today, after the 2021 election, Conservatives are more rural and homogeneous than ever before,” re-elected Tory MP Shannon Stubbs said before heading into Tuesday’s caucus meeting. “We lost great, strong, necessary colleagues in big cities in every part of this country.”

After winning the leadership by selling himself as the “true blue” Tory option, O’Toole shifted to the political centre to go after seats in Ontario and Quebec, but they didn’t materialize.

The review should consider that the Conservative party became “more Liberal” to win seats in the GTA and Quebec, but lost votes and seats, as well as losses in the popular vote, said Jenni Byrne, whose former jobs include prime minister Stephen Harper’s adviser and Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s principal secretary.

“Obviously, the strategy did not work,” Byrne told iPolitics on Friday. “There’s not a metric that I can see that we actually increased.”

READ MORE: PPC shutout of Parliament; may cost Conservatives seats

Thanks to Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Reform Act, the Conservative caucus has also voted to give itself the power to oust O’Toole before the next election.

The campaign review might not be critical to determining whether the caucus backs O’Toole, but how he and his team respond to it will be, Harrison said.

As in previous campaign reviews, the document will be internally shared with caucus, its national council, and senior staff, said party spokesperson Cory Hann.

Byrne said it’s extremely important the review becomes public, however, and can be scrutinized by party members across the country.

In the 2015 and 2019 elections, the process to pick a new leader had already begun when the report was finished, whereas O’Toole has signalled his intention to stay on as leader until the next election.

“Erin and his team are going to want to share this,” Byrne said. “They’ve hung their hat on this review.”

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