Erin O’Toole retooled his front bench critic roles Tuesday, making some minor moves as the party prepares for the House of Commons’ return.
Conservative MPs told Global News that caucus was watching closely for what messages O’Toole sends in selecting his front bench and leadership team.
The loudest signal was the re-elevation of Pierre Poilievre, a polarizing MP with a significant following within the conservative movement, to the role of finance critic.
O’Toole had shuffled Poilievre out of the finance portfolio last February – a move that angered Poilievre’s boosters, including those who pushed him to run against O’Toole for the party leadership. At the time, a senior source close to O’Toole spun the move not as a demotion, but as moving an effective communicator to the important “jobs and industry” file.
Asked why he moved Poilievre back to finance after shuffling him out only months ago, O’Toole pointed out that the MP – who was first elected to the House of Commons at age 25 – has been one of the loudest voices warning about rising inflation.
“I’m putting a strong and principled voice to hold this government to account on inflation and our economic performance,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole also shuffled Michelle Rempel Garner – another high-profile MP – from the health portfolio to natural resources. Rempel Garner had been the party’s lead prosecutor on the government’s handling of COVID-19 health measures and vaccine procurement, but moves into an important role for her Calgary constituents.
Eric Duncan, an Ontario MP seen as a rising star within the Conservative movement, has been tasked with being O’Toole’s liaison with caucus – a less public-facing role, but a busy one, with MPs still grumbling after September’s election loss.
There were notable absences from O’Toole’s front bench picks, however. B.C. MP Mark Strahl, who is popular with his caucus colleagues, was left without a critic role, as was Shannon Stubbs, who previously served as the party’s public safety critic. Both are veteran MPs, and both have expressed public disappointment in September’s election results.
Alex Ruff, who was part of O’Toole’s leadership team in the last Parliament, also didn’t make the cut.