O’Toole made the announcement during the Danielle Smith Show on Global News Radio 770 CHQR.
“I’m no longer the shadow minister for foreign affairs — I resigned,” O’Toole said. “I’m pleased to tell you and your listeners here in Alberta that I’m launching today my bid to be the next Conservative leader and the next Conservative prime minister of Canada. And I can think of no better place to do it than Alberta.”
O’Toole also posted a video announcing his leadership bid, in which he said he would “fight for” industry, police and military, and unite the federal Conservative movement.
Smith asked O’Toole why he was launching his leadership bid in a city that saw a Conservative sweep in the 2019 federal election, as opposed to launching in Durham, Ont.
LISTEN: Erin O’Toole joins Danielle Smith to announce his Conservative Party leadership bid
“Canada’s different. Our challenges that the country is facing are different and politics needs to be different,” O’Toole said.
“So I am here to show Albertans that their valid concerns with the Confederation — our federation as a country — are going to be a priority for me as leader of the Conservative Party.”
O’Toole plans to meet with party members in the Conservative heartland of Alberta, whose fury at the federal Liberals saw that party shut out of winning a single seat in the province in the last federal election.
But the failure of the Conservatives to shut the Liberals out of government entirely led to Andrew Scheer announcing last month he’ll resign his post as party leader once his replacement is chosen.
“I’m telling Conservatives here, this is a fight for the soul of our party,” the Durham MP said. “We need to keep it Conservative. We need to be proud of our principles. And we can win in other parts of the country and show that Alberta’s concerns are national concerns.”
O’Toole finished third in the 2017 leadership race, his supporters effectively putting Scheer over the top to clinch the victory over Maxime Bernier.
Bernier later left the Tories and formed the People’s Party of Canada, but he failed to win even his own seat in the October election.
He’s been sniping at the Conservative leadership race from the sidelines, most recently going after former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay’s leadership plans, which were officially unveiled on the weekend, calling it a “platitude fest.”
MacKay and O’Toole are now likely front-runners in the race after last week saw several other potential heavyweights decide not to run, including former Quebec premier Jean Charest, former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, and current MP Pierre Poilievre, who was supposed to launch his campaign Sunday but quit at the last minute.
O’Toole said his vision of the Conservative party was not to “remove rights from other Canadians.”
“I’m a principle liberty, rule-of-law Conservative,” O’Toole said. “I wore a uniform to stand up for all rights and that means I don’t pick or choose which I defend, whether it’s for equality rights or women’s rights. I’ve been consistent on that in my public life. I’ve also stood up for religious freedom, conscience rights of freedom of speech.
“I don’t pick and choose which I stand up for. So I’ve done that as an MP. I’m proud to have support of social conservatives. I said in my launch, I want to take the hyphen out.”
O’Toole recognized that the party had reinvigorate the conservative movement in the Greater Toronto Area, pointing to the example Stephen Harper set as 22nd prime minister.
“I’ll be reaching out and showing that we can bridge these connections, we can keep our country strong and united without becoming the Liberal Party. This is what this election is going to be.
“There’s going to be a candidate who was the PC leader in 2003 wanting us to go back there. This is about going forward and it’s about staying true to our principles.”
In order to officially register as a candidate, contenders must submit an application, a $25,000 instalment on the $300,000 entry fee and the first 1,000 of the 3,000 required signatures, all by Feb. 27.
Others who have officially announced their intention to run include two other Ontario MPs, Marilyn Gladu and Derek Sloan.
O’Toole represents the riding of Durham, an area that’s increasingly becoming a bedroom community for Toronto.
After spending years as a lawyer, he came to the House of Commons in a 2012 by-election. He became Veterans’ Affairs minister in 2015, and was credited with easing major tensions between the Conservative government of the day and the veterans’ community by drawing in part on his own background serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
His leadership platform for the 2017 vote included a marquee promise to increase the basic personal tax exemption for Canadians in their first three to five years out of school, as well as a pledge to increase defence spending to meet the NATO target of 2 per cent of GDP and a new trade and security partnership between Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
During that race, he had the support of dozens of members of the Conservative caucus, but several are now endorsing MacKay.
Conservative party members will elect a new leader on June 27.
–with files from Global News’ Adam Toy