Erin O’Toole hoping for another chance after campaign review blames brand, data issues

Click to play video: 'Conservative Party must ‘build trust’ with new Canadians, ‘cultural communities:’ O’Toole'
Conservative Party must ‘build trust’ with new Canadians, ‘cultural communities:’ O’Toole
WATCH: Conservative Party must ‘build trust’ with new Canadians, ‘cultural communities:' O’Toole – Jan 27, 2022

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is hoping for another chance after a post-election review found fault with the Conservatives’ brand and data game in the 2021 campaign.

It is now in Conservative MPs’ hands to decide whether or not he’ll get that chance.

A post-election review conducted by former MP James Cumming leaked out to Ottawa reporters as Conservative MPs were digesting the findings Thursday morning.

Sources told Global News the “dozens and dozens and dozens” of recommendations in the Cumming report — which was assisted in Quebec by Christian Paradis, a former Harper-era cabinet minister — have been accepted by the party leadership.

According to one Conservative source, those recommendations include:

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  • Ditching the party’s voter database, known as CIMS, in favour of building a modern data-driven campaign machine. The source said the report found the Conservative Party has fallen well behind the Liberals — who credited their data operations as a key component of their 2015 majority victory — on this front.
  • More attention on candidate recruitment, including more diverse candidates. That principle extends to the staffing level. Few Conservative staffers speak Mandarin, for instance, making operating on platforms like WeChat difficult.
  • Addressing larger “brand” issues facing the Conservative Party, which O’Toole’s supporters believe have hampered them electorally since the “Barbaric Cultural Practices” snitch line in 2015. Those close to O’Toole believe that this is one of the biggest issues facing the party’s electoral chances.

The message coming out of O’Toole’s camp on Thursday was an appeal for more time — to address those perceived “brand” issues and to build up a new data game, a costly and risky proposal — and to better acquaint Canadian voters with O’Toole rather than switching horses once again.

But there is little doubt, including among O’Toole’s supporters, that the leader has been diminished since last September’s disappointing federal election results.

“He’s so limited in his ability to actually do what he wants because caucus can vote him out,” one sympathetic conservative source told Global News Thursday.

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“So sometimes he has to do things where everyone is like ‘what are you doing, this doesn’t look or sound like you at all’ … and it’s literally to avoid a mutiny in caucus.”

Click to play video: 'Conservative Leader O’Toole gets mixed reviews from party over election post-mortem'
Conservative Leader O’Toole gets mixed reviews from party over election post-mortem

Speaking to reporters Thursday evening, O’Toole said he had a lot to learn from Cumming’s findings.

“Some of those (lessons) relate to me. Leadership starts at the top. There were areas I fell short, including especially in the last 10 days (of the campaign),” O’Toole said at an Ottawa press conference.

“A big learning is our need to reach out to new Canadians, cultural communities that are such an important part of this country. Because of the pandemic, and because some of our own policies of the past, we have to build trust particularly with cultural groups. And so there will be a commitment and a set of plans that come out of these meetings where our caucus, our party and the entire Conservative party organization will commit to plans based on these recommendations.

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“Because we have to make sure we bring more Canadians into our party, (and) make sure their voices are being heard so we can win the next election.”

It’s unclear how much Cumming’s findings will assuage concerns by a number of MPs who want O’Toole gone, largely due to his metamorphosis from “True Blue” leadership candidate to a carbon pricing-endorsing moderate during the lead up to last year’s general election.

But one Conservative MP, who spoke to Global News on the condition they not be named, said Thursday evening that there are “absolutely not the votes in the (caucus) room” to force O’Toole out.

“The mood has become: fish or cut bait,” the MP said of O’Toole’s detractors.

“The appetite for this continued navel gazing or infighting has all but evaporated from the rest of caucus. … Obviously (the election result) was disappointing. We didn’t form government. But we’re now into a parliamentary session and there are issues that members are fully engaged with.”

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