Erin O’Toole to appear by video at Conservative leadership event

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Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will deliver a greeting at the party leadership event where his successor will be named — but he won’t be on the stage.

Party president Rob Batherson said the Sept. 10 leadership event in Ottawa will feature a tribute to both O’Toole and Candice Bergen, the longtime Manitoba MP who became the party’s interim leader after O’Toole’s resignation.

Batherson said O’Toole was invited to speak in person but had a prior commitment, so he’ll issue his greetings by video.

“Mr. O’Toole has agreed to participate with a role in the official program,” spokesperson Clarissa Schurter wrote in a brief statement.

O’Toole’s ouster as party leader last winter launched the Conservative Party’s third leadership race since the party lost the 2015 election.

He is still the MP for the Ontario riding of Durham — a seat he’s held since 2012 — but has kept a low profile since a majority of his caucus voted to remove him as leader last February following months of tension.

Many in the caucus were unhappy with how O’Toole handled COVID-19 vaccine mandates and efforts to moderate some Conservative polices, such the one on climate change.

On his MP website, O’Toole says that while his time as party leader came during the worst of COVID-19 lockdowns, he still “successfully modernized party operations and party policy” and won the popular vote in the 2021 election.

The Conservatives earned 34 per cent of the ballots cast in that election, versus 33 per cent for the Liberals — but a heavy concentration of those ballots in western ridings meant the Liberals walked away with 160 seats and the Conservatives won 119. That is two fewer than the Conservatives won two years earlier under Andrew Scheer.

Since he left the leader’s chair, O’Toole has restarted a podcast he launched back in 2016. He and his podcast guests discuss policy issues like China, climate change and mental health.

Peter MacKay, a former cabinet minister who finished second to O’Toole in the 2020 leadership race, will be the special guest at this year’s leadership announcement event.

The party reported earlier in the week that more than half of the 678,000 ballots it sent out to members have been returned. Veteran Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre is widely thought to be the race’s front-runner, having sold nearly 312,000 memberships.

He faces off against fellow MPs Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison, as well as ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest and Roman Baber, a former Ontario legislator Premier Doug Ford booted from caucus for opposing pandemic lockdowns.

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