Defeated Tory MP says review of Conservatives' election loss will examine O'Toole's performance

·4 min read
Then-Conservative MP James Cumming rises in the House of Commons on June 1, 2021 in Ottawa.  (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld - image credit)
Then-Conservative MP James Cumming rises in the House of Commons on June 1, 2021 in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld - image credit)

The defeated Conservative MP now tasked with determining where his party's federal election campaign went wrong says he intends to "hit the ground running" within the week — and his work will include a review of leader Erin O'Toole's campaign performance.

"I've already reached out to people within the party, outside the party. I've already started to arrange some interviews for next week and I intend to start travelling within the next couple of weeks," James Cumming told CBC's The House this week.

Listen: James Cumming discusses '360' review of Conservative campaign

Cumming said the report will "absolutely" include a thorough examination of O'Toole's actions during the campaign, as well as those of his campaign team.

"I'm very pleased that Erin is very interested in seeing what he could have done better," he said.

Cumming was narrowly defeated last month in the riding of Edmonton Centre, losing to Liberal candidate Randy Boissonnault by just 615 votes. Two years ago, Cumming beat then-incumbent Boissonnault by more than 4,500 votes.

At the party's first post-election caucus meeting Tuesday, O'Toole announced that he had tapped Cumming to conduct a "a 360 review on where we fell short, what we did right."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

O'Toole promised that "every element" of the Conservatives' summer campaign would be examined in order to put the party in a better position to win next time.

At a similar caucus meeting in 2019, then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said that former cabinet minister John Baird — who had not run in that year's campaign and was a few years removed from politics — would lead an external election post-mortem for the party.

Cumming said he suspects he was chosen to lead the project this time because of his perspective as someone who lost in "an incredibly tight riding," and because of his pre-politics experience with examining business practices. Before he was elected in 2019, Cumming was president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

"I am in a bit of a unique situation in that I did come off a narrow loss, so that probably does give me a little bit of a perspective," he said. "But I don't want the perspective of what happened in Edmonton Centre to be the entire perspective of the report.

"You know, it's a big country. Situations are different throughout the country. And so I want to see what the analysis looks like across the country."

Baird's report, which was delivered to the party two months later, blamed the party's loss on inexperienced staff and centralized campaign control.

It was not made public. Scheer had already announced by that time that he was stepping down as party leader.

Conservative spokesperson Cory Hann has told CBC News that Cumming's final report will be for the party's internal use only. "Cumming will present the findings to caucus, council and the campaign," Hann said.

Watch: O'Toole says his caucus is 'united' after election defeat

Asked by The House whether it's important for his final report to be seen by all Conservatives — not just O'Toole and his inner circle — Cumming wouldn't say yes or no.

"I think the importance for me right now is to make sure that this report is substantive and Erin's the style of leader that I believe will take the report very seriously," he said. "I think he wants to learn and he wants to utilize what we get out of the report."

Cumming said his job is to bring forward fact-based recommendations that reflect "what people are saying and what the data says."

"What happens with it after? That's certainly up to the leader, caucus and the party," he said.

O'Toole wants report before the end of the year

O'Toole has said he would like a post-mortem report finished before the end of the year — something Cumming has called a tight timeframe. He said he is "putting together a little bit of a team" to help him get the work done.

"I'm not going to let time be the only variable because, you know, you want to have good content. But I do think if I get on it right away that I can produce a report that has the kind of content that we need," he said.

The Conservative candidates who step up to run all want to form government and to make a difference, Cumming said, and a big part of his work will be deciding on the best path to get there.

"It's important for the country that the Conservative Party is competitive and can demonstrate that it's ready to form government," he said.

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