OTTAWA–Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole sent a message that his party will refocus on Canada’s economic recovery Wednesday, shuffling his economic critics and creating new post-pandemic-oriented portfolios.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/2/2021 (471 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2021.

SEAN KILPATRICK - THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2021.

OTTAWA–Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole sent a message that his party will refocus on Canada’s economic recovery Wednesday, shuffling his economic critics and creating new post-pandemic-oriented portfolios.

But it was his removal of polarizing MP Pierre Poilievre from the prominent role of finance critic that had most Conservatives talking.

O’Toole shuffled Poilievre — one of the party’s most recognizable MPs — from finance to the newly created role of “jobs and industry” critic, replacing him with veteran B.C. MP and former trade minister Ed Fast.

A Conservative source told the Star that O’Toole’s team wants Poilievre, who is as beloved by the party base as he is loathed by his political opponents, to focus on the party’s top priority — jobs and rebuilding after COVID-19’s economic destruction. The Star agreed to withhold the source’s identity, in order to discuss internal party deliberations.

We “want him managing the portfolio, running the portfolio that is politically most important to us,” the source said.

Poilievre, 41, has been an MP since 2004 and is a sharp-elbowed partisan who seems to revel in the back-and-forth of Question Period. He excels at getting under the Liberal government’s skin.

But a second party source acknowledged that Fast will set a different tone in the party’s most important critic role — and that was part of the decision to bring the former trade minister into O’Toole’s shadow cabinet.

The source denied there were any significant policy disagreements between O’Toole, who appears to be trying to move the Conservatives closer to the political centre, and Poilievre, a fiscal hawk who has been known to quote Ronald Reagan during media interviews.

Poilievre had not made any public comments about his new role as of Wednesday afternoon, and his office did not reply to the Star’s interview request.

Two senior Conservative sources warned O’Toole’s decision to shuffle Poilievre carried risks for the new leader. Poilievre has a sizable following both within the party’s base and online, where his frequent social media missives reach thousands of Canadians each day. His removal from the finance portfolio will be viewed as a demotion among his fans.

It’s a particularly risky move, said one source, as the party prepares to hold a virtual policy convention next month. That convention was already anticipated to be rocky, after O’Toole and the Conservative caucus voted to oust social conservative standard-bearer Derek Sloan last month.

The shuffle was precipitated by the decisions of veteran MPs Peter Kent and Cathy McLeod not to run in the next election.

But it also gave O’Toole an opportunity to double-down on the Conservatives’ traditional focus on the economy. In a meeting with the Star’s editorial board Monday, O’Toole said he believes the ballot-box question in the next election — whenever it comes — will be who Canadians trust to rebuild a post-pandemic economy.

O’Toole elevated Edmonton MP James Cumming, formerly the party’s industry critic, to the newly created role of shadow minister for COVID-19 economic recovery. Raquel Dancho, a Manitoba MP seen as a rising star within the party, will focus on “future workforce development.”

Ontario MP John Nater was given a critic role for “middle-class prosperity” — the portfolio O’Toole assigned himself after winning the leadership last August.

Find the Star's federal election coverage here

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier