We like democracy but don’t like politicians. I know they have a bad name. But I have great respect for those with the courage to run for public office and for those who serve. I believe that most are honest, hard-working people who are in it for the right reasons. Further, I am often impressed by the backgrounds of politicians and one of those is Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole. You may disagree with his political ideology and policy proposals but, for a moment, let’s forget that. Let’s consider him as a person.
O’Toole was born in Montreal, the oldest of five children. His mother died of breast cancer when he was nine years old and shortly afterward the family moved to Port Perry, Ontario, where he attended elementary school. They moved again, this time to Bowmanville, and he graduated from Bowmanville High School.
At age 18, O’Toole attended the Royal Military College in Kingston. After graduating with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science, he became a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He served in Trenton, earned his wings at Winnipeg, and was then posted to 12 Wing in Shearwater, Nova Scotia. Serving with 423 Squadron, O’Toole was a tactical navigator aboard CH-124 Sea King helicopters. He flew search and rescue missions and supported the Royal Canadian Navy with maritime surveillance and anti-submarine work aboard the frigate HMCS St. John’s.
In 2000, after 12 years of service and obtaining the rank of captain, O’Toole transferred to the reserves. While serving as a training officer with 406 Squadron, he earned a law degree at Dalhousie University. In Halifax he met and married Rebecca. They would have two children; Mollie and Jack.
Upon graduation in 2003, O’Toole and Rebecca moved to Toronto. Specializing in corporate law, he worked at two large firms before moving to Procter & Gamble. He could have stayed a corporate lawyer and made pot loads of money but he made another decision.
An appreciation for the value of public service was instilled in O’Toole by his grandfathers, who both served in the Second World War, and his mother’s work with Vietnamese refugees. Further, in 1995, O’Toole had helped in the campaign in which his father, John, was elected Member of Provincial Parliament for Durham, a seat he would hold for 19 years.
While working in corporate law, O’Toole’s dedication to public service led him to volunteer with the Royal Canadian Legion and the Rotary Club, serve on the Royal Military College Board, help initiate the Clarington Youth and Community Leadership Dinner, raise money to build schools in Africa, co-chair the River Runs Through Us project that protects fish habitat and built a recreation area on the Bowmanville Creek, and to lead the effort that created a memorial to Canadians who died serving in Afghanistan. O’Toole was also the co-founder of the True Patriot Love Foundation which raised millions of dollars to support veterans and their families, a director of the Churchill Society that encouraged education programs regarding parliamentary democracy, and was the director of the Vimy Foundation that raised funds for the battle’s 100th anniversary commemoration.
In 2012, O’Toole ran in a by-election and won a seat as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Durham. His election resulted in the first time that a father and son had represented the same riding at the provincial and federal levels. He served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government. levels. In January 2015, he was appointed minister of veteran’s affairs. The Conservative party lost the fall 2015 election but O’Toole won his seat. In October 2017, he became one of thirteen Conservatives running for the party’s leadership but it was won by Andrew Scheer.
Scheer appointed O’Toole to his shadow cabinet as foreign affairs critic. In the October 2019 federal election O’Toole again won his seat. Scheer resigned in December and interim leader Rona Ambrose named O’Toole the party’s shadow cabinet critic for Public Safety.
O’Toole again ran for the Conservative Party’s leadership. The onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic saw the leadership campaigns go virtual and mail-in ballot counting postponed until August 23, 2020. A malfunctioning mail opening machine delayed the count so it was not known until 1:00 in the morning that O’Toole won 57% of the votes on the third ballot to become the Conservative Party’s new leader and leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
O’Toole’s job now is now to present his party as a government-in-waiting and himself as ready to be prime minister. We don’t know whether the policies he proposes will resonate with enough Canadians to allow O’Toole to become prime minister but what we do know is that his background is impressive and his dedication to public service is unquestioned. Our democracy will be okay with politicians like that.
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