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O’Toole eyes Tory interim leadership

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OTTAWA—The race to become the Conservative party’s caretaker for the next few months is becoming more competitive, with MP and former cabinet minister Erin O’Toole announcing his candidacy for interim leadership.

But uncertainty still hovers over the process to replace Stephen Harper and there are tensions over perceived meddling by the outgoing leader’s aides.

Sources say a backlash erupted over the news that a caucus meeting wouldn’t be held until mid-to-late November and rumours that it would exclude defeated MPs.

Conservatives now are looking at Nov. 5 for a Parliament Hill gathering.

O’Toole, a former air force captain and lawyer who held the veterans affairs portfolio, faces competition from longtime MPs Rob Nicholson and Diane Finley.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel also is mulling a run.

The 42-year-old O’Toole, who only entered federal politics in a 2012 byelection, already is positioning himself as the candidate representing the new face of the party.

“We need to show that we’re bringing a new approach,” said O’Toole, who was born in Montreal and says he can hold his own in French in the Commons..

“I think we can get that out of the gate and start rebuilding, and then whoever wins the leadership can take over a unified, strong party that’s ready to be serious in four years.”

O’Toole said it’s time for the caucus to take a different approach in communicating policies and positions.

“We shouldn’t fear debate,” he stressed. “Our party has always been a party of ideas and principles.

“I think we should be really proud to talk about those more and not as worried about missteps,” added O’Toole.

Meanwhile, former cabinet minister John Baird says he won’t run for the Conservative leadership.

There had been brief speculation he was contemplating a bid to replace Stephen Harper at the Tory helm.

But in a statement this morning, Baird put an end to that idea.

“While I have, indeed, received expressions of interest and am tremendously flattered by the support, I will not be running for leader of the Conservative party of Canada,” he said.

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