The federal Conservative party has a new leader and the Central Okanagan’s local MPs think he will be a “unifier” for conservatives across the country.
Erin O’Toole was declared the winner of the leadership race early Monday morning after technical problems delayed the vote results by hours, as thousands of ballots had to be replicated by hand after the counting machine shredded their envelopes.
After three rounds of counting, O’Toole emerged the victor with 57 per cent of the vote, a resounding victory over his rival Peter MacKay, who won 43 per cent.
Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas said O’Toole’s vast private sector experience — both as a lawyer and a helicopter navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force — has him well equipped to represent the beliefs of the people of the Central Okanagan.
“He’s already in the leader of the official Opposition’s office, doing the work and hitting the ground running exactly as he said he would,” Albas said.
The high voter turnout — with over 175,000 ballots cast — shows the Conservative movement is very strong, Albas said, and people are interested in politics and want to see a change.
“The Conservative voters last night sent a very clear message to Ottawa,” he said.
Kelowna Lake Country MP Tracy Gray said she spent a day and a half knocking on doors with O’Toole last summer when she was in the midst of her own election campaign. To Gray, O’Toole represents a movement towards unity in the large tent of beliefs that the Conservative party represents.
“He’s head down, hardworking and that’s what we need right now,” said Gray, who endorsed O’Toole throughout his campaign.
While Albas didn’t endorse any of the four candidates who ran for the party’s leadership, he’s fully supportive of the new leader.
“He brings a lot of perspective from outside of government… and he has a lot of experience in the House as well,” said Albas.
O’Toole’s strong performance in both Western provinces and Quebec also bode confidence in local parliamentarians come the next election — whenever that may be.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prorogued Parliament until Sept. 23, at which point he will give a throne speech. After that speech, opposing parties could potentially trigger an election with a non-confidence vote.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about what will happen in the fall and he has to be prepared for all of it,“ Albas said.
“But given what happened in the leadership election and how good his French is, he can connect with people from right across this country in their own language and share his positive vision for this country.”
Currently, Gray and Albas serve as critics in the official Opposition’s “shadow cabinet.” Gray serves as the interprovincial trade critic, while Albas is the critic of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion.
“That’ll be up to the leader,” Gray said when asked whether she anticipates her and Albas will keep their critic positions. “And of course, with the throne speech, we’ll have to see if the government has confidence or if the government will fall.”
-With files from The Canadian Press
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