2015 Defeat

By mid-2015, the CPC was in full campaign mode, preparing for an October election. Support remained weak in Quebec, but the Conservatives had succeeded in appealing to important groups of voters once loyal to the Liberals. These included suburban Canadians in southern Ontario, and immigrant communities of all kinds.

For the first time in decades, however, questions were being raised about a possible voting shift among core Conservative loyalists in the West; especially in Alberta, where 44 years of PC government had been brought to an end by an NDP majority victory in the provincial election in May 2015. The Canadian economy was stagnating and the Alberta oil industry was experiencing deep cuts as a result of low worldwide oil and commodity prices. It was difficult to predict whether the federal Conservatives' claim — that they were the country's best economic stewards — would convince Canadians to give them a fourth national mandate.

The federal election in October revealed that after nine years of Stephen Harper's rule, despite a final return to balanced budgets, Canadians were ready for change. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau won a majority government. They defeated the Conservatives, who returned to the status of official opposition in the House of Commons. Harper resigned as Conservative leader. Former cabinet minister Rona Ambrose became interim party leader.

2016 Leadership Contest

The race to replace Stephen Harper began in earnest in 2016. The leadership vote was scheduled for May 2017. In April 2016, Kellie Leitch, former Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, was the first to launch her leadership campaign. Ultimately, 14 candidates appeared on the ballot, including Andrew Scheer, former Speaker of the House of Commons; Maxime Bernier, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Industry; Erin O’Toole, former Minister of Veterans Affairs; and Member of Parliament Brad Trost. Television personality and businessman Kevin O’Leary joined the leadership contest in January 2017. He withdrew before the May vote, despite multiple polls that indicated he was a front runner.

Major issues in the leadership campaign included continuity with the core values of the previous Conservative government; the role of social conservatives in the party; and issues of supply management and immigration. Bernier, who was neck and neck with O’Leary in April, sought to take the party in a more libertarian direction. Leitch drew heavy criticism for suggesting that immigrants to Canada should face screening for “anti-Canadian values.” Scheer, a social conservative, promised to continue the policies of the Conservative government under Harper.

On 27 May 2017, Scheer was elected leader. He defeated Bernier after all other candidates had dropped off in the party’s ranked ballot system. It was a narrow victory — Scheer took 50.95 per cent of the available points under the rules of the balloting system; he defeated Bernier by a count of 62,593 votes to 55,544. Scheer’s election demonstrated the strength of social conservatives in the Conservative Party. He was widely seen as a safer choice than Bernier.

In August 2018, Bernier quit the Conservative caucus. He called the party “morally corrupt” and said that it had abandoned its principles. Bernier founded a new party, the People’s Party of Canada, and announced a plan to run a full slate of candidates in the 2019 federal election. Scheer and other Conservative MPs accused Bernier of putting his personal profile ahead of the party.

Official Opposition, 2015–Present

As the Official Opposition, the Conservatives focused most of their criticism on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The party and its provincial allies were particularly critical of Trudeau’s introduction of the carbon tax. Federal Conservatives vowed to repeal the tax if elected in October 2019. The Conservatives also accused Trudeau of mishandling the purchase and construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project and failing to stand up to US president Donald Trump in trade negotiations. (See Canada and NAFTA.) They also protested Trudeau’s decision to compensate Omar Khadr.

Throughout 2019, much of the Conservatives’ criticism focused on Trudeau’s role in the SNC-Lavalin affair. Conservative leaders accused Trudeau of political interference in the case. They called for broader inquiries by the Ethics Commissioner and RCMP. The party also released a series of platform documents and vision statements in advance of the 2019 general election. In September 2019, it became the first party to announce a full slate of candidates.

Andrew Scheer
Andrew Scheer in 2015. Scheer became Conservative Party of Canada leader in 2017.

2019 Federal Election

The Conservatives won 121 seats in the federal election held on 21 October 2019. The party increased its presence in the House of Commons and won the popular vote; it received over 34 per cent compared to the Liberals at 33 per cent. Support for the Conservatives rose in most provinces, particularly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. However, this was not the case in Quebec and Ontario. Significantly, the Liberals captured most ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, as they had in 2015. The Conservative share of the vote dropped in that region. Overall, the Liberals won 157 seats, enough to give them a minority government. The Conservative Party remained the Official Opposition.

2020 Leadership Contest

Immediately following the 2019 election, Andrew Scheer faced criticism from within his party for failing to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Many saw the Liberal leader as extremely vulnerable following the SNC-Lavalin affair. This was compounded by revelations during the campaign that Trudeau had worn blackface on more than one occasion. Peter MacKay said that Scheer’s election loss was “like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.” Calls for Scheer’s resignation intensified. On 12 December, he announced that he would step down. He remained as leader until a leadership convention was held; it was scheduled for 27 June 2020.

The leadership was contested by four candidates: Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, backbencher Derek Sloan and Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis. Sloan had become the first Seventh Day Adventist to be elected to the House of Commons when he was elected to the Ontario riding of Hastings—Lennox and Addington in the 2019 election. He quickly marginalized himself with comments that were widely seen as racist and homophobic. The unilingual Lewis sought to reopen the debate on abortion. She also became the first Black woman to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The contest effectively became a two-person race between MacKay and O’Toole. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the convention was postponed and the voting was conducted by mail. More than 170,000 ballots were cast, and the results were delayed for several hours due to a malfunction with a mail-sorting machine. On 23 August, O’Toole was named leader of the CPC after winning 57 per cent of the vote on the third ballot.

Erin O’Toole
(courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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