Reframing the Conservative Party with a Team and Vision Focused on Middle Class Families

From the very beginning, the new Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, came into his role with a strong speech that laid out his vision.  Given that the fog of the war on the pandemic kept the leadership race out of the headlines, leaving many Canadians still feeling they didn’t know enough about him, Erin O’Toole struck the right self-effacing tone. A series of strong interviews with the dailies had all the makings of a charm offensive, as he intimated he’d be presenting a strong leadership team to Canadians in the days ahead.

The Inner Circle
His first announcement focused on the staff and parliamentary team that will lead his first campaign as Leader and it revealed that he was capable of a shrewd balancing act, looking to the two fronts in his next campaign battle. O’Toole performed very strongly in Quebec during his leadership campaign. His choice of Gerard Deltell as House Leader and Richard Martel as Quebec Lieutenant affirmed that he sees a strong “ground game” in the province as a key priority for the next election. The choice of Manitoba MP Candice Bergen, however, also told Conservatives that he is grounded on the terra firma for the party. She has been one of the strongest advocates for western Canada in parliament and only burnished her reputation in caucus as House Leader. She’s seen as a highly capable strategist and consensus builder.  Both within the House and out on the hustings, O’Toole has bolstered his team in the Leader’s Office with colleagues who can perform well and provide him with sage counsel when he needs it.

Key Cabinet Critics

James Cumming: Innovation, Science and Industry
James Cumming has been appointed to the critic post, shadowing Minister Navdeep Bains and replacing Michelle Rempel Garner who moves to Health. Cumming is a former CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and had a respected career in business before entering politics. He is a new MP, winning in 2019 against Liberal MP Randy Boissonneault after losing to him in 2015 by a narrow margin. Cumming has since raised his own profile by effectively criticizing and questioning the federal government at the Standing Committee on Finance during the height of the WE scandal. His lines of questioning were creative and well-designed to garner media follow-up without repeating areas of inquiry from other Conservative MPs. Cumming brings strong credibility to the file and with the new investments in research and development as well as economic supports announced earlier this year, he will have lots to dig into as the Conservative look to contrast themselves with the Liberals during the fall sitting. His efforts will have to provide a lens on how an economic recovery can support western Canada.

Michelle Rempel Garner: Health
Michelle Rempel Garner moves to the Health portfolio, replacing up-and-comer Matt Jeneroux who had supported Peter Mackay and now is without a portfolio. Rempel Garner is one of the strongest opposition voices for the Conservatives and knows what generates media profile and engagement from the Conservative faithful. Her primary role will be to focus in on the government’s early decisions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic now that there is an opportunity for reflection. Rempel Garner has already sent out a press release to this effect with an indication that she will relish the opportunity. Rempel Garner did not support any leadership candidate in the race but enjoys strong support among a group of Conservative MPs and the broader Conservative party base, making her need to support one candidate in the field less acute. She has experience in the health sector, mainly in research and development of cancer treatments at two universities. Strong indications of Rempel Garner’s thinking around a proper public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic lie in a document she produced in March 2020 labelled COVID-19 and the Economy: Charting a Path Forward where she describes the need for increased research and development funding into vaccines, testing for the disease and antibody testing.

Pierre Poilievre: Finance
Pierre Poilievre retains the coveted Finance portfolio and will lead the prosecuting of the federal government on its unprecedented spending in response to the pandemic. Once believed to be a leadership contender himself, Poilievre, like Rempel Garner, is an effective critic that makes media headlines for his aggressive approach. His questioning during Finance committee hearings on the WE scandal showed his ability to get under the government’s skin – a role he relishes and will continue with.  Poilievre is an economic Conservative, which may present issues with the pivot O’Toole is attempting toward the centre of the political spectrum. Where Poilievre believes a free market delivers the best results, O’Toole has signalled that a more interventionist approach, focusing on the well-being of the middle-class, will be his preferred style of governing. However, Poilievre is close to several members of O’Toole’s inner circle and will cooperate with the new leader’s direction.

Michael Chong: Foreign Affairs
In a surprising move, Michael Chong was named as critic for Foreign Affairs. Chong has a strong reputation and is well-respected among more moderate Conservatives as a principled parliamentarian. His appointment to the high-profile portfolio would not be notable if not for the fact that Chong did not endorse O’Toole. This makes three of the top shadow Cabinet picks (Poilievre and Rempel Garner the others) neutral parties in the race. As well, rising star Garnett Genuis, who has been a strong critic of the Canada-China relationship, was not given the role despite his place as the most high-profile social conservative supporter of O’Toole. O’Toole would have arguably not won the leadership race without the bona fides Genuis brought to his campaign, which makes Chong’s appointment more surprising. The role is also O’Toole’s previous critic portfolio before he chose to run for leader. Look for his imprint on the file.

Andrew Scheer: Infrastructure and Communities
Andrew Scheer takes up his new role as critic for infrastructure and Communities, showing that while he is not leader anymore, he has no plans to leave politics and fade into the background. The position will rise in profile as priorities are chosen to roll out recovery infrastructure investments, especially in a green economy. Both Finance Minister Freeland and Infrastructure and Communities Minister McKenna have signalled this as a priority and Scheer will be the key critic. He will also support O’Toole in acting as a bridge between the leader and social conservatives in caucus and the party’s base. Scheer is quite strong in an opposition role and is able to target weak answers from the government for continued scrutiny, making him effective on the front bench.

Greg McLean: Natural Resources
With 20 years of previous experience working in finance related to oil and gas, Greg McLean brings a wealth of experience to his new portfolio of Natural Resources. He was one of O’Toole’s strongest supporters during the leadership campaign and will be able to move past simple soundbites when criticizing Minister Seamus O’Regan. The role is one of the most important for Conservatives whose geographic base in Alberta has been severely hit by low oil prices, curtailing investment and job creation in the sector. O’Toole’s show of confidence in McLean to ably hold the government to account is important to understanding his rising status in caucus.

A Leader Focused on Middle Class Prosperity
O’Toole’s own cabinet role is a surprising one on its face, but once again more interesting the closer you look. The role in Trudeau’s Cabinet for middle class prosperity was derided both within the House and by some in the media initially, mostly due to a shaky start by Mona Fortier. She was loath to clearly define just who the middle class was and what her mandate would focus on. O’Toole clearly sees an opening; he’ll define for Canadians what middle class prosperity should be focused on, and that will include an eye to a ballooning federal deficit that could greatly impact what the government can do before it’s compelled to raise taxes that middle class families will have to pay. Expect him to be focused on selling that message as strongly as possible in the weeks and months ahead before the next election.
Conservative Shadow Cabinet:

  • Leona Alleslev (Aurora – Oak Ridges – Richmond Hill, Ontario) – National Security Committee
  • Rob Morrison (Kootenay – Columbia, British Columbia) – National Security Committee
  • Lianne Rood (Lambton – Kent – Middlesex, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Agri-Food
  • Alain Rayes (Richmond – Arthabaska, Quebec) – Shadow Minister for Canadian Heritage, Official Languages & Quebec Economic Development
  • Cathy McLeod (Kamloops – Thompson – Cariboo, British Columbia) – Shadow Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations
  • Dane Lloyd (Sturgeon River – Parkland, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Digital Government
  • Kenny Chiu (Steveston – Richmond East, British Columbia) – Shadow Minister for Diversity and Inclusion and Youth
  • Warren Steinley (Regina – Lewvan, Saskatchewan) – Shadow Minister for Economic Development & Internal Trade
  • Hon. Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
  • Dan Albas (Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola, British Columbia) – Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change
  • Michael Barrett (Leeds – Grenville – Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Ethics
  • Tracy Gray (Kelowna – Lake Country, British Columbia) – Shadow Minister for Export Promotion and International Trade
  • Jamie Schmale (Haliburton – Kawartha Lakes – Brock, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Families, Children and Social Development
  • Hon. Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Finance
  • Richard Bragdon (Tobique – Mactaquac, New Brunswick) – Shadow Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
  • Hon. Michael Chong (Wellington – Halton Hills, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Hon. Michelle Rempel Garner (Calgary Nose Hill, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Health
  • Brad Vis (Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon, British Columbia) – Shadow Minister for Housing
  • Raquel Dancho (Kildonan – St. Paul, Manitoba) – Shadow Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
  • Gary Vidal (Desnethé – Missinippi – Churchill River, Saskatchewan) – Shadow Minister for Indigenous Services
  • Hon. Andrew Scheer (Regina – Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan) – Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Communities
  • James Cumming (Edmonton Centre, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry
  • Chris d’Entremont (West Nova, Nova Scotia) – Shadow Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs & Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)
  • Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park – Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for International Development & Human Rights
  • Hon. Rob Moore (Fundy Royal, New Brunswick) – Shadow Minister for Justice and the Attorney General of Canada
  • Mark Strahl (Chilliwack – Hope, British Columbia) – Shadow Minister for Labour
  • Hon. Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Middle Class Prosperity
  • James Bezan (Selkirk – Interlake – Eastman, Manitoba) – Shadow Minister for National Defence
  • Greg McLean (Calgary Centre, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Natural Resources & Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor)
  • Philip Lawrence (Northumberland – Peterborough South, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for National Revenue
  • Eric Melillo (Kenora, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Northern Affairs & Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor)
  • Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia – Lambton, Ontario) – President of the Queen’s Privy Council & Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario)
  • Shannon Stubbs (Lakeland, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
  • Pierre Paul-Hus (Charlesbourg – Haute-Saint-Charles, Quebec) – Shadow Minister for Public Services and Procurement
  • John Nater (Perth – Wellington, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Rural Economic Development
  • Rosemarie Falk (Battlefords – Lloydminster, Saskatchewan) – Shadow Minister for Seniors
  • Pat Kelly (Calgary Rocky Ridge, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Small Business & Western Economic Development
  • Stephanie Kusie (Calgary Midnapore, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Transport
  • Luc Berthold (Mégantic – L’Érable, Quebec) – Shadow Minister for Treasury Board
  • John Brassard (Barrie – Innisfil, Ontario) – Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs
  • Jag Sahota (Calgary Skyview, Alberta) – Shadow Minister for Women and Gender Equality
  • Todd Doherty (Cariboo – Prince George, British Columbia) – Special Advisor to the Leader on Mental Health and Wellness
  • Tony Baldinelli (Niagara Falls, Ontario) – Special Advisor to the Leader on Tourism Recovery

Conservative House of Commons Leadership Team:

  • Deputy Leader: Hon. Candice Bergen (Portage – Lisgar, Manitoba)
  • Quebec Political Lieutenant: Richard Martel (Chicoutimi – Le Fjord, Quebec)
  • House Leader of the Official Opposition: Gérard Deltell (Louis-Saint-Laurent, Quebec)
  • Chief Opposition Whip: Blake Richards (Banff – Airdrie, Alberta)
  • Deputy House Leader of the Official Opposition: Karen Vecchio (Elgin – Middlesex – London, Ontario)
  • Deputy Opposition Whip: Alex Ruff (Bruce – Grey – Owen Sound, Ontario)
  • Caucus-Party Liaison: Hon. Tim Uppal (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alberta)
  • Question Period Coordinator: Eric Duncan (Stormont – Dundas – South Glengarry, Ontario)
  • National Caucus Chair: Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, Alberta)