Erin O’Toole has been looking for an issue that will differentiate himself from his predecessor, Andrew Scheer, and make a case for why he ought to be Prime Minister instead of Justin Trudeau.
He’s found an unlikely friend in China.
Sure, the newly minted Conservative leader has employed a lot of tough on China rhetoric.
With the two Michaels (Kovrig and Spavor) in arbitrary detention in China effectively tying Trudeau’s hands on a number of Sino-Canadian issues, this opens an opportunity for O’Toole to sabre rattle without risking the two Canadian’s lives the same way he might once or if he becomes Prime Minister.
Why is China O’Toole’s new favourite country?
First, the Prime Minister has effectively leveraged the disdain and bigotry of portions of the conservative establishment and base towards Muslims as a wedge issue in the previous two elections.
In 2015 in particular, the Niqab ban and barbaric cultural practices hotline proposals of the CPC set up the Liberal leader to make a compelling case that the Conservatives were bigoted, un-Canadian, and racist.
With the Chinese regime all but certainly engaging in cultural and actual genocide against Uighur Muslims, the Conservatives have found a cause that enables them to stand on Canadian values while defending a minority they have effectively alienated themselves from over the past six years.
They have led the charge in striking an all-party special committee that has heard testimony and studied evidence of this genocide in action. Even Liberal members of the committee have endorsed the view that the actions of the Chinese regime constitute genocide.
For his own part, Trudeau has been reticent to utilize the word genocide, insisting that it’s a loaded word and he wants to see more evidence.
This has opened a line for the CPC leader and critics to go after Trudeau who endorsed the findings that Canada has engaged in cultural genocide against Indigenous Canadians.
Notwithstanding Trudeau’s efforts to get the two Michaels home to Canada alive, the CCP’s efforts against the Uighurs clearly meet the bar, and in any other situation would be a no brainer for the Prime Minister to endorse.
With China slated to host the 2022 Olympics, the CPC has also found a smart and principled issue to further hammer both the Chinese and Trudeau on.
O’Toole has called for a boycott or relocation of the Beijing Olympic games next year. Canadians have become increasingly skeptical and hostile about the Olympics, as they are about China – and so this is an incredibly smart strategy that will resonate well, not only with Canadians, but around the world.
In fact, O’Toole has been generating headlines on the other side of the world with his calls.
Faced with an electorate that has been uncertain and apprehensive to give O’Toole a chance, any opportunity to raise his profile internationally, will also raise his profile nationally.
Doing so with a clearly Canadian values lens might just unlock the door to the PMO for O’Toole.
Robbie Kreger-Smith is a consultant for restaurants, communications, and marketing with previous partisan political experience in Alberta.