Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has freshened up his front benches, shuffling veteran Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre out as the party’s finance critic at a time of unprecedented government spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Toole has moved Poilievre to become the Tory critic for jobs and industry, one of several changes to his shadow cabinet unveiled Wednesday.
The Conservative leader has tapped veteran British Columbia MP Ed Fast to take over as the party’s point person on federal finances, arguably the most coveted and high-profile critic role for the Official Opposition.
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The shuffle comes on the heels of two longtime MPs announcing they will not run again in the next election: B.C.’s Cathy McLeod, who was the critic for Crown-Indigenous relations, and Ontario’s Peter Kent, the party’s former critic for employment, workforce development, and disability.
In a media release, O’Toole said the changes reflect how his team of critics — which he refers to as “shadow ministers” — is “relentlessly focused” on jobs and rounding the corner on the pandemic.
“Canadians are worried about their economic future,” O’Toole said. “Canadians have seen what happened when the Liberal government was in charge of getting vaccines, can we trust them with our economic recovery? Canada’s Conservatives are here to secure jobs, secure our economy, and secure our future.”
Poilievre, a polarizing figure who is popular in Conservative circles because of his pull-no-punches communications skills in both English and French, served as Stephen Harper’s last minister of employment and social development in 2015. The MP for the Ottawa-area riding of Carleton was first elected in 2004 at the age of 25.
Fast, an MP for the Abbotsford riding since 2006, served as Harper’s minister of international trade for four years.
Fast was the Conservative environment critic under interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose and former leader Andrew Scheer. In November 2019, as Scheer was facing questions about his leadership after having failed to win the fall federal election, Fast declined to serve again as a critic. “Mr. Scheer is entitled to surround himself with a team that fully supports his leadership,” Fast said at the time.
The veteran MP is now tasked with holding Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s feet to the fire, particularly when it comes to the upcoming federal budget and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freeland, who took over as international trade minister after Liberals won power, shared a memorable hug with Fast in the House of Commons in 2016 to celebrate the signing of the Canada-European Union free trade deal. The moment brought Liberal and Conservative MPs to their feet in a standing ovation.
Other changes to O’Toole’s shadow cabinet:
- Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale takes over from McLeod as critic for Crown-Indigenous relations;
- Edmonton Centre MP James Cumming is now critic for COVID-19 economic recovery;
- Kildonan-St. Paul MP Raquel Dancho, previously O’Toole’s point person on immigration, refugees, and citizenship, is the critic for “future workforce development” and disability inclusion;
- Calgary Forest Lawn MP Jasraj Singh Hallan takes over as critic for immigration, refugees, and citizenship;
- Lethbridge MP Rachael Harder is critic for digital government;
- Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Dane Lloyd is the new critic for rural economic development while Beauce MP Richard Lehoux is the associate critic for the portfolio;
- Perth-Wellington MP John Nater is the critic for middle class prosperity;
- Saskatoon-University MP Corey Tochor is the new critic for families, children, and social development.
O’Toole’s moves come amid talk of another federal election, possibly as soon as this spring. But the Conservative leader suggested in an interview with The Toronto Star’s editorial board this week that he is in no hurry for Canadians to again head to the polls.
O’Toole told The Star he doesn’t think an election should be held “as we’re trying to deal with the second wave of the pandemic” and should happen at “a time when the country is not in this acute state of crisis.”
An early election was averted in October after Liberals opted to make a confidence test out of an O’Toole motion to create a new committee to investigate the WE Charity controversy and “potential scandals” related to pandemic spending. The motion was defeated by a vote of 180 to 146.
Public opinion polls suggest Liberals continue to hold a lead over the Tories as O’Toole works to make himself better known to Canadians. The Tory leader has conceded he has work to do on that front.
A new, 30-second ad unveiled by the Conservative Party this week shows someone typing “who is Erin O’Toole?” in a search engine. “We aren’t sure who that is… did you mean Erin Brockovich?” the screen shows.
From there, the ad shows a video of O’Toole walking in a snowy setting, addressing the camera directly. “If you don’t know me, I’m the leader of Canada’s Conservatives,” he says in the clip. “And right now, it’s my mission to get our economy back on track.”