As the Conservative member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach, I was one of Erin O’Toole’s biggest fans and truly believed he had what it would take to be prime minister.
I was also one of only a handful of Conservative MPs who supported him both times he sought the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
I worked hard on those campaigns, sold party memberships and even joined him on the road for a couple of days of campaigning in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
During the last leadership campaign, his message of being a True Blue Conservative resonated with me very well, as it did with scores of other party members.
It was refreshing to see him take strong stands on issues that more timid Conservatives avoid, such as championing free speech, blasting Liberals for ignoring mass illegal border crossings, supporting pipelines and our ethical oil and gas sector and lambasting Justin Trudeau’s useless carbon tax.
Besides that, I liked that he served in the military, had business experience as a corporate lawyer and came across as a very nice guy to me and others.
I sincerely thank Erin for his service to the country and to the Conservative movement, but I’m relieved he’s no longer leader and we’re now on a path to pick a new one.
The beginning of the end began the very day he won the leadership.
His messaging changed from True Blue Conservative to middle-of-the-road red Tory.
Long before the September 2021 election, we Conservative MPs were stunned when we were told the leader and his team had come up with a type of carbon pricing scheme for Canadians.
There was no debate among MPs before this was sprung on us. To say noses were out of joint, especially for Alberta and Saskatchewan members, is an understatement.
The pitch was that it wasn’t a carbon tax per se, but it was a way to get money from people so they could put it into a low-carbon savings account and spend it on green initiatives.
Conservatives didn’t buy it. Nor did the public. The scheme was touted to MPs as part of an environmental plan to show that we Tories cared about the environment just as much as anyone.
Trouble is, voters didn’t care much about our nifty new plan and we ultimately lost votes with it.
I remember a pertinent conversation I had while canvassing in the last election.
When a fellow told me climate change was a big issue for him, I quickly told him about our carbon savings plan in the hope of getting his support.
He said: “Yeah, well, I hate to say it, but the Liberal tax at least gives me my money back so I can spend it as I see fit. I can’t afford to put in new windows or a furnace, so your plan doesn’t help me.”
The very fact we Conservatives suddenly had to stop criticizing the Liberals’ carbon tax was a huge blow to our campaign.
When I’d canvassed in Edmonton Griesbach in 2019, taking a stand against the carbon tax was a huge winner at the doors.
My favourite introduction went something like this: “Hi, I’m Kerry Diotte, your Conservative Member of Parliament. I’m running for re-election. Want to get rid of Trudeau’s carbon tax?”
The answer was inevitably a resounding: “Hell, yeah!”
I’d reply: “Great. Can I count on your vote?”
“You’ve got it pal,” was the frequent reply.
But that was just one of the most egregious policies and issues that turned people off in the 2021 campaign. Others were well-reported. The leader came under pressure from the media and opted to change his policy on gun laws. As well, our stance against vaccine mandates and vaccine passports became a muddled mess. Our base vote bled to the People’s Party of Canada.
We lost a winnable election because we became too timid to stand up and be Conservatives.
I’ve long said this to my MP colleagues and anyone who will listen: “We can’t be obsessed about what the mainstream media obsesses about. We don’t have to respond to or fall for their ridiculous narratives. We have to stop bowing down to or appeasing the ultra-woke people in our society. Try as we might to entice them, those people will never vote Conservative.”
As a former journalist, I’m truly alarmed by the hard-left slant taken by many in today’s mainstream media, and I’m frightened that we’ve lost objective voices.
It’s bemusing and alarming that, throughout the COVID pandemic, most mainstream journalists were crying out for more lockdowns and more censorship of anyone who dared go on social media to have an alternative opinion about how to handle this loathsome virus.
In the ongoing trucker protests against vaccine mandates, mainstream media was obsessed with pointing out the sins of a minuscule fraction of demonstrators in Ottawa instead of emphasizing that thousands of truckers and their supporters came together to protest what they felt were unfair vaccine mandates.
One guy out of thousands of people shows up stupidly carrying a Canadian flag desecrated with swastikas? Oh my God, stop the presses! We have a front-page story here!
This is the kind of media bias that hurt Erin and the team around him. And the biggest mistake was pandering to the media with wish-washy policies that ticked off Tories and didn’t inspire centrist voters to cast a Conservative ballot.
I have stayed in close touch with my former MP colleagues and it was obvious that the end was coming for Erin who was increasingly seen as being unable to take a true Conservative stand on most any issue and stick with it. He and his team seemed more worried about criticism the CBC and Toronto Star might dish out.
Note to reasonable-minded Conservative politicians everywhere: If the Toronto Star or CBC is praising you, you’re likely taking the wrong side of an issue.
I wasn’t going to wade in to support calls for Erin to step down as leader until I saw his waffling on the trucker protest, coined the Freedom Convoy 2022.
While many Conservative MPs lauded the convoy and talked with them on Parliament Hill, Erin was conflicted and came up with a compromise that pleased nobody: He’d meet with trucking industry reps but not show up on Parliament Hill to talk to some of the thousands of regular folks.
Erin lost a caucus vote on his leadership by a 73 to 45 margin. I join the hundreds of people who thank him for his service and wish him and his wonderful family nothing but the best.
But now it’s time for new beginnings and for us to proudly stand up for Conservative values like free speech, family, community safety, independence, entrepreneurship and balanced budgets.
And already, the left-leaning mainstream media pundits are shaping THEIR narrative. You’ve likely heard it. It goes something like this: “Now that the moderate Conservative Erin O’Toole is gone, the party seems like it’s poised to take a turn to the hard right and Canadians won’t be comfortable with that.” Hard right? Hard right by whose definition? What baloney.
This leadership race will be fascinating, but I believe the great, failed experiment of going to the mushy middle of the Canadian political spectrum is over.
Conservatives are hankering to elect a leader who will stand up for the types of values listed above and stick to them.
I believe those values ARE the values shared by a majority of Canadians who will enthusiastically support a leader championing those values while telling most of the out-of-touch media pundits to take a hike.
With this kind of renewed conservatism, I’m eager to run again in Edmonton Griesbach to take back the seat from the federal NDP.
Canada needs True Blue Conservatives. I can’t wait for the next election.
Kerry Diotte is a Conservative activist who was a member of Parliament from 2015 to 2021 in the riding of Edmonton Griesbach. He’s a former city councillor and long-time journalist.
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