Tories' pick unexpected after long slog at the polls

Tories’ pick unexpected

OK, let’s not unduly dwell on it, but yes, the machines malfunctioned.

The Conservatives, priding themselves on effective business-like operations, could not get the machines to count the 175,000 or so ballots Sunday to choose the leader who before long will run against Justin Trudeau. Supposedly ballot envelopes were shredding as they were opened. 

So to be straight, the machine ate the voters’ stated preferences. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. OK, again, let’s not unduly dwell on it.

Except, it bears noting… what was supposed to be a first-ballot result at 4 p.m. became 5, then 6, then 7, then 7:30, then 8, then 8:30, then 8:45, sigh, 9 and beyond. They ran out of boys to cry wolf. There were about 15 15-minute warnings.  

If you mix your politics with sport, you will know an entire Raptors playoff game came and went, then a Canucks game became uncompetitive by the time the first ballot was brought forward in the first – no, sorry, the second – intermission. When it was 4-0 for Vegas, it was day two of the ballot counting in the east.

And, of course, the first results didn’t render a decision. It was merely the first taste of a ranked ballot – rank being an operative word all of a sudden. And even though the computerized system knew instantly what the second and third ballots would yield – it calculated second and third choices when it was tabulating the first pick of each voter, after all – the party was determined to inject some drama.

And, look, there was. Peter MacKay was supposed to be north of 40 not south of 35 on the first count. His cohort wore masks in the hotel room watching the results, but you could see the despondency through them. Leslyn Lewis, with little national profile but with no small credentials to have one, gave the more established candidates a real run. She will need a spot in the party post-haste.

By a third ballot, the east was in bed, the west coast was almost done watching hockey – although not on CBC, which preempted the game and held on to the panel that in its own courageous way ragged the puck for hours. They were gassed by the time they left the ice in quintuple overtime.

Welcome to the job, Erin O’Toole, whose team jumped up and down – few masks adorning them – when he seized the role. In B.C., that’s a $2,000 fine now.

A leadership race intercepted and extended by the pandemic was suboptimal for the Tories to widen the tent, and it kept the incumbent Andrew Scheer in place extra-long, like the last person in a party asking where the good Scotch is hidden and wondering where to order take-out. If he’d stayed any longer, it seemed the Conservatives would change their name again just to shake him off. It took until Sunday to get him into a cab, but not before he went on a bender of a speech; if you took his advice, you would not be reading this right now but engrossed in a couple of outlets he touted that shall remain nameless and pointless.

The winner is a slight but not gobsmacking surprise. O’Toole finished third in the 2017 race. The only contestants ahead of him were the long-overstayed Scheer and the long-forgotten Maxime Bernier, who was quickly abducted by space aliens and returned to earth reprogrammed sans tolerance.

But in the three years since, few expected O’Toole to be girding as Scheer’s successor. That was supposed to be Rona Ambrose, John Baird, Pierre Pollievre, Jason Kenney, Brad Wall, Jean Charest, perhaps even Christy Clark. Funny how these third-placers ultimately mop up.

O’Toole, a former cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, put a darker blue coat of paint on his moderate earlier self and staked a much harder-edge tone in the campaign, talking about “Taking Back Canada,” which can be interpreted in some quarters as a dog whistle.  

The leadership race itself didn’t illuminate any vision for the party. These races are for the die-hards, those among the nearly one-third of voters who cast ballots for Conservatives almost regardless of who is at the top. Well, almost regardless.

But O’Toole’s acceptance speech was generous and his remarks onward will be all about attracting another million or so Canadians to enter the Tory tent. And Trudeau is a far riper target than he was mere months ago, even in his pandemic finesse, thanks to the Kielburgers, his dispatching of Bill Morneau as finance minister and his seeming desire to pivot a natural resources economy to a green one under successor Chrystia Freeland. This is political red meat for the Conservatives.

People need not forget there is a minority government that may face collapse in the fall, that the Tories will get to lay out their plan against the Liberal one, and O’Toole will be a more formidable opponent than was Scheer, particularly if he can articulate a new Conservative covenant that unifies rather than divides.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

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