THUNDER BAY – Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole had his sights trained on one particular target on a weekend visit to Thunder Bay. The Durham MP kept his focus largely on Justin Trudeau during a stop at the Sleeping Giant brewery, arguing the Prime Minister is out of touch with average Canadians and failing to defend the country’s resource sector.
About 40 people attended a meet-and-greet with the candidate in the brewery’s taproom Sunday afternoon. O’Toole was introduced by Linda Rydholm, a former Thunder Bay city councilor who came second in a close three-way contest in the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding last year.
O’Toole spent years in the military and as a corporate lawyer before winning a Durham by-election in 2012. He served as Minister of Veterans Affairs under Stephen Harper and is currently the shadow minister of foreign affairs. He’s widely seen as the most serious threat to front-runner Peter MacKay in the race to succeed Andrew Scheer as Conservative leader.
The leadership hopeful has staked out territory to the right of MacKay with the slogan “true blue conservative,” pledging to defund large parts of the CBC, move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and take a tough-on-crime approach, for example.
The southern Ontario MP said on Sunday he makes a point of listening to those in the north, noting he was one of only two candidates to visit Thunder Bay during the 2017 leadership race. He emphasized his support for the resource sector, arguing that Trudeau is “has been against” it.
“We would not have a Bay Street in Toronto were it not for Inco and Falconbridge and the mineral extraction in northern Ontario,” he says. “This has provided wealth to all of Canada. We’ve got to be the most ethical, the most environmentally conscious, but we should be very proud of these jobs – as opposed to the Trudeau government that seems to think that everyone can work for Google.”
O’Toole believes that dynamic may lead to a shift in the region’s electoral fortunes, saying he believes the party can capture both Thunder Bay seats in the next election.
“I think you’re going to find us win this seat, because Justin Trudeau does not stand up for working people,” he argued. “Minister Hajdu is probably disconnected from the needs of tens of thousands of people in Ontario that need to work for a living, whether it’s in a pulp mill, whether it’s in a mining operation – she’s part of the most anti-development government we’ve had in our history.”
O’Toole also visited smaller centres in northwestern Ontario on his visit, including Kenora and Emo.
The results of the Conservative party leadership will be announced on June 27. All members of the party who have joined by April 17 will be eligible to vote.