Erin O’Toole enters crowded field vying for Conservative leadership

Erin O’Toole entered the increasingly crowded race to succeed Stephen Harper Friday, saying he is best placed to lead the Conservative Party into the next election because of his experience in the military and his track record as a cabinet minister.

“We need to build on the strengths and successes of our past. And to do that, we need a leader with experience, fresh ideas and a track record of getting things done.”

The former veterans affairs minister and current MP for Durham told supporters in his hometown of Bowmanville, Ont. that he is ready to rebuild a party that let its majority government slip away in the last election campaign.

“Our party is far from broken,” the former Canadian Armed Forces captain said. “The Conservative Party remains strong and united.”

“We need to reconnect with more Canadians, we need to show Canadians that government can and must be more than sunny ways slogans and photo ops. We need to build on the strengths and successes of our past while actively seeking opportunities to win back the trust of Canadians.”

He said he was proud to be part of Harper’s team, a government he said staved off economic ruin in the midst of the last recession and rebuilt the Canadian Armed Forces.

He also pointed to his government’s financial lifeline to General Motors — a move he said stopped the auto maker from going under — as a point of personal pride. His riding, Durham, is situated next to GM’s massive auto assembly plant in Oshawa east of Toronto.

O’Toole said if elected he would focus his energies on winning back the support of Atlantic Canadians, a region where the Conservatives were trounced in the last election. They failed to win a single seat.

O’Toole, a lawyer by training, said he has a connection to the region because we went to law school at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He also spent part of his time in service as an air navigator in Shearwater, N.S.

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Ontario MP Erin O’Toole served as Minister of Veterans Affairs in the Harper government. He touted his military service Friday as proof he is ready lead the party as it rebuilds after its loss in the last election. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The Ontario MP, who most recently served as public safety critic in his party’s shadow cabinet, acknowledged that many Canadians might not yet recognize his name.

“Today, all I ask is that Canadians take the time to get to know me, and the Conservative team, a little better. We will be there for you and your families in 2019,” he said, referring to the next election. “I think Canadians did not vote for high deficits, higher taxes, and we’re going to remind them of that in a bit of a fresh way.”

The Ontario MP had previously run for the interim leadership of the Conservatives, but lost to Rona Ambrose.

“The interim leadership race was a great experience for me. The difference from that race, and this one, is I intend to win this one,” he said to laughs from supporters.

He has the backing of 10 sitting MPs, including Cathy McLeod (Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo), Todd Doherty (Cariboo-Prince George), Blake Richards (Banff–​Airdrie), Michael Cooper (St. Albert-Edmonton), Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon–​Grasswood), James Bezan (Selkirk–​Interlake–​Eastman), Robert Sopuck, Dauphin–​Swan River–​Neepawa), Jamie Schmale (Haliburton–​Kawartha Lakes–​Brock), John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfil) and Colin Carrie (Oshawa).

O’Toole was first elected to the House of Commons in a 2012 by-election to replace Bev Oda, who resigned.

The officially registered candidates in the leadership race are MPs Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Kellie Leitch, Michael Chong, Deepak Obhrai and Brad Trost.

The federal Conservative Party will elect its new leader on May 27.

The contenders, so far

Candidate who has declared, registered and paid the full fee: Michael Chong.

Candidates who have declared and registered: Maxime Bernier; Kellie Leitch; Deepak Obhrai; Andrew Scheer; Brad Trost.

Potential candidates who have declared only: Chris Alexander; Erin O’Toole; Dan Lindsay; Pierre Lemieux; Adrienne Snow.

Expected to declare soon: Steven Blaney; Andrew Saxton; Lisa Raitt.

Others who have mused about running but not declared: Kevin O’Leary; Rick Peterson.

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