THUNDER BAY – Erin O’Toole views the Ring of Fire as a project of national significance that needs to receive more attention from Ottawa.
Visiting Thunder Bay on Wednesday, the federal Conservative leadership candidate said developing the potentially lucrative Northern Ontario mineral deposits would be a priority if he were to lead the country.
“Infrastructure should not just be subways in a couple of cities in the country,” O’Toole said.
“This is what the federal government should do with infrastructure funding. It’s not just about transit in a few parts of the country. If we can help access jobs, resources, opportunity, that’s where the federal government has a role in roads, access to resources and intertie of electricity transmission. There’s a whole range of things we can do to make this possible.”
O’Toole is one of 14 candidates in a crowded leadership field vying to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper. The race includes former Harper cabinet ministers Lisa Raitt, Maxime Bernier and Kellie Leitch in addition to high-profile political newcomer Kevin O’Leary.
When asked about lack of progress on the Ring of Fire during the time former federal Conservative government was in power, O’Toole said former Kenora MP Greg Rickford was a proponent of the project and pointed the finger at the Ontario Liberals.
“All we needed to do was see a plan from the provincial government on where the infrastructure investment would go,” O’Toole said.
“The federal government has a role to make sure these projects prioritize things to make sure we get these resources out of the ground and upgrade them here in Northern Ontario as well.”
While in the city, O’Toole met with members of the local riding associations and held an evening meet and greet with party members at the Sleeping Giant Brewing Co.
O’Toole said he sees opportunity for the Conservatives in Northern Ontario, despite the party coming up nearly empty in the region during the last election. Outside of Tony Clement winning the relatively southern Parry Sound-Muskoka riding, the party lost seats previously held in Kenora, Sault Ste. Marie and Nipissing-Timiskaming.
“I think Northern Ontario is a naturally conservative part of the country. We just haven’t tapped into the potential it has,” O’Toole said.
“I think Conservatives can tell that story. We also support rural and outdoor ways of life and we do that proudly.”
A former Royal Canadian Air Force captain and lawyer, O’Toole was first elected MP in Durham in 2012 and was appointed minister of veteran affairs in 2015. He replaced the embattled Julian Fantino, who drew the ire of veterans across the country, including in Thunder Bay with the closure of the city’s veterans affairs office.
Still, O’Toole said he believes Canadians will be drawn to a Conservative leader who can bring back many of the “great things” such as job creation, low tax environments and small business support from the Harper era.
“All of those things they liked they can have with a new leader,” O’Toole said. “We lost the trust of Canadians in 2015. We have to learn from that. We have to earn the trust back.”
The 44-year-old O’Toole acknowledged the likability of Justin Trudeau largely helped contribute to the Liberals winning a majority government but isn’t concerned about that being too much to overcome in 2019.
“We elect a competent government. We don’t elect a celebrity-in-chief,” O’Toole said. “We need a strong, stable country. We need jobs for young people and we need to help job creation. We need Canada to stand proud in the world. I think all of those things are slipping away.”