OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole continued Tuesday to reshape his party’s presence in the House of Commons ahead of Parliament’s return later this month.
The list of who will sit on the Opposition front benches as the critics for the Liberal government ministries is a mix of those who backed O’Toole in his leadership campaign, those who backed his rivals and several key players in the party who had remained entirely neutral in the race.
Among them: his predecessor Andrew Scheer, who will serve as infrastructure critic; Ontario’s Pierre Poilievre, who remains as finance critic; and Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who will take on the health portfolio.
Watch: The fresh new faces joining O’Toole’s shadow cabinet. Story continues after the video.
Ontario MP Michael Chong is taking a big step up to become the Conservatives’ critic for foreign affairs, considered one of the most high-profile portfolios.
That was the portfolio O’Toole himself was granted in 2017 after he lost the leadership race that year to Scheer.
After that contest, Scheer had to find key posts for several other MPs who had challenged him and lost; Chong, who had also run, was given the infrastructure post Scheer occupies now.
In his mix, Scheer left out only two of his rivals: Kellie Leitch, who had been heavily criticized for calling for a “values test” for immigrants, and Brad Trost, who had placed fourth in the race with strong support from social conservatives.
Trost later left politics, and went on to back Ontario MP Derek Sloan for the leadership in the recent race.
Sloan also ran a campaign strongly aimed at social conservatives, and finished last. Though he was the only other MP in the race, he didn’t get a seat on O’Toole’s front bench.
Marilyn Gladu, another Ontario MP who had tried to enter the contest but couldn’t meet the qualifications, was given a minor post from O’Toole — she’ll keep watch on the portion of the federal economic development portfolio that hands out cash to southern Ontario.
The Conservatives will meet for the first time Wednesday since O’Toole won the leadership last month.
“In the coming weeks, we will be presenting a plan to put hardworking Canadians first, lead our nation out of this crisis and rebuild our great country,” he said in a statement unveiling his critics list Tuesday.
The Liberal plan on that score is also landing in the coming weeks, in the form of a throne speech that will be followed by a vote of confidence in their minority government.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who had previously suggested his party was ready to trigger an election on the basis of the ethics scandals plaguing the Liberals, appeared to tone down his battle rhetoric Tuesday.
Speaking at his party’s own caucus meeting in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., he put down some new markers, including a desire for the conclusion of the various ethics reports into the government’s decision to award the operation of a student grant program to the WE Charity, known for its ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family.
He said he also wants to see the Liberals put in place an amnesty for people who may have to pay back some of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) due to eligibility problems.
Blanchet would need the support of both the New Democrats and the Conservatives should his party truly wish to bring down the government.
He said his party his ready to fight an election, but before the people in his province consider whether to vote for the Tories, they should scrutinize O’Toole.
O’Toole is against many of the province’s priorities, Blanchet said, including its support for medical assistance in dying, and its opposition to pipelines.
“We want Quebecers to really know him,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2020.