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OPINON: Erin O’Toole’s Public Perception Problem

Think Titanic and Iceberg. We all know who wins, the Titanic’s ‘unsinkable’ billing notwithstanding. Erin O’Toole’s ship slammed into the Iceberg of public opinion sometime in late September 2019. Since then, every move the new Conservative Leader made ripped new and bigger holes in the ship’s hull.

Today, the good ship O’Toole is sinking and sinking fast. This is a problem – a big problem – but one that’s almost completely self-inflicted. Refusing to honour leadership campaign promises alienated one segment of the Party’s base. Then O’Toole angered (and continues to anger) social conservatives – approximately 40% of the Party’s traditional hardcore supporters.

O’Toole’s ham-fisted approach to removing Derek Sloan from caucus is the latest boneheaded move that alienated his own supporters while failing to court the centre-left voters he desperately needs to win an election. When the Liberal Party leader and current Prime Minister congratulates Erin O’Toole on your decision to boot a member of your caucus, surely you must realize you’re on the wrong road.

There were a hundred better ways to accomplish removing Sloan from caucus, none of which relied upon the Conservative Party’s love affair with ‘Gotcha!” style politics. That asinine love affair must end if the party ever hopes to gain support from centrist voters.

Backtracking after the fact only made O’Toole look more foolish in the eyes of all Canadians.

Getting to Know Erin O’Toole

In the heady days following his victory in the Conservative Party leadership race, only 31% of Canadians held an unfavorable view of the man. Then Erin O’Toole embarked on a nationwide ‘get to know me’ campaign to introduce himself to Canadian voters.

Five months later, 47% of Canadians hold an unfavourable view of the Conservative Party Leader, meaning O’Toole’s ‘get to know me’ campaign is an unmitigated disaster.

The negative trend for O’Toole’s unfavorable rating says his odds of becoming Prime Minister are only marginally better than those of Green Party Leader Annamie Paul.

Even NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s chances of becoming Prime Minister are better that O’Toole’s today. If his unfavorable trend continues, Erin O’Toole will overtake Jagmeet Singh as the most unpopular federal party leader by the end of January 2021.

A Dire Prediction

Under Erin O’Toole’s leadership, the Conservative Party could lose upwards of 20 of its 45 seats in Ontario (35) and Quebec (10) in the next federal election. For O’Toole to stand any chance of winning this spring’s election, he must haul his personal Titanic off the iceberg, repair the massive holes he ripped in its hull and find a way to positively frame himself in the minds of the average Canadian voter.

So far, his attempts at this are a total and abject failure. Granted, framing him positively in the minds of voters was never an easy task but, to his credit, O’Toole started out strong. He made solid moves to frame himself instead of allowing the Liberal Party to frame him, unlike his predecessor. Then he started ‘making his mark’ on the Party by issuing statements mocked by the media and ridiculed in Liberal fundraising letters.

The O’Toole Dilemma

In a nutshell, Erin O’Toole’s dilemma is two-fold. First, mainstream media outlets refuse to cover him, and he’s alienated non-traditional media (for reasons nobody but O’Toole understands), guaranteeing less than stellar coverage by those outlets.

Second, only 31% of Canadians ‘strongly disapprove’ of Justin Trudeau – just one percent higher than the percentage of voters who would vote Conservative if the election were held today.

That means the only people who ‘strongly disapprove’ of Trudeau are Conservative Party voters.

O’Toole cannot win an election with the support of only 30% of Canadians, no positive media coverage and his alienation of those outlets politically inclined to agree with him.

He must expand the Big Blue Tent to win an election. Instead, he’s been shrinking the tent in his zeal to court centre-left voters.

Erin O’Toole must figure out who he is, what he stands for and share those answers with Canadians honestly and credibly. This is no small order for a career politician and make no mistake, Erin O’Toole is a career politician.

Conservative Party Support Falls Nationwide

The only provinces the Conservative Party holds a commanding lead in voter intention are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

He’s losing by 5 points in British Columbia, 13 points in Ontario, 18 points in Quebec and 17 points in Atlantic Canada.

O’Toole and his Conservative Party are losing the gender war as well.

While the Conservatives lead in all male age demographics, women universally dislike the party and, presumably, its leader.

Conservative voter intentions of women by age bracket:

  • 18-34: 17%

  • 35-54: 18%

  • 55+ : 29%

These numbers show Erin O’Toole’s ‘get to know me’ campaign is a colossal failure with women. These numbers also show there is no path to victory for Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party if an election were today. The bigger problem is, barring a miracle, these numbers are not going to improve between now and the spring election we all expect Trudeau to call.

Is There a Solution?

While I don’t all have the answers on how to fix this problem for the Conservatives, I know Erin O’Toole’s current path all but guarantees a humiliating defeat for the Party at the polls.

His reliance on ‘Gotcha!’ style politics turns off voters across the political spectrum.

His insistence on alienating his Party’s base through broken promises and stupid decisions mean 10% or more of traditional Conservative voters could sit out the next federal election.

His refusal to hire communications professionals and listen to their sage advice means Erin O’Toole, like Andrew Scheer before him, is surrounded by Party ‘Yes’ men and women who do whatever the leader says instead of the job they were supposedly hired for: building a successful communications strategy.

O’Toole cannot win if he stays on his current path. That’s obvious to everyone, apparently, but Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party.

The question before us today is really quite simple.

Will the numbers released by Angus Reid today open O’Toole’s eyes or will they cause him to double-down on his failed strategy?

The future of Canada will be determined by the Erin O’Toole’s answer to that simple question.

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