The defeated Conservative MP is now tasked with deciding where his party’s federal election campaign went wrong, saying he intends to “hit the ground running” within the week – and his work will include a review by leader Erin O’Tooles campaign performance.
“I’ve already reached out to people inside the party, outside the party. I’m already started arranging some interviews for next week, and I intend to start traveling within the next few weeks,” James Cumming told CBC’s The House this week.
Listen: James Cumming discusses ‘360’ review of the Conservative campaign
CBC News: The House6:40Conservatives eager for ‘360’ campaign review
Cumming said the report “absolutely” will include a thorough investigation into O’Toole’s actions during the campaign as well as his campaign teams.
“I’m very happy 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 the Edmonton Center and lost to Left-wing candidate Randy Boissonnault by just 615 votes. Two years ago, Cumming beat the then-seated Boissonnault by more than 4,500 votes.
At the party’s first post-election meeting Tuesday, O’Toole announced that he had tapped Cumming to make a “360 review of where we fell short of what we did right.”
O’Toole promised that “every element” of the Conservatives’ summer campaign would be examined to better enable the party to win next time.
At a similar assembly meeting in 2019, then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said former Cabinet Minister John Baird — who had not run in this year’s campaign and was a few years removed from politics — would lead an external election after slaughter 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 ride,” and because of his pre-political experience investigating business practices. Prior to being elected in 2019, Cumming was President and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m in a unique situation, coming from a narrow loss, so that probably gives me a little bit of a perspective,” he said. “But I do not want the perspective of what happened in the Edmonton Center to be the whole perspective of the report.
“You know it’s a big country. The situations are different all over the country. And that’s why I want to see what the analysis looks like all over the country.”
Baird’s report, which was delivered to the party two months later, was due to the party’s loss of inexperienced staff and centralized campaign control.
It was not published. Scheer had already announced at the time that he was resigning as party leader.
Conservative spokesman Cory Hann has told CBC News that Cummings’ final report is for the party’s internal use only. “Cumming will present the results for meeting, advice and campaign,” Hann said.
See: O’Toole says his assembly is ‘united’ after election defeat
Asked by The House whether it is important for his final report to be seen by all conservatives – not just O’Toole and his inner circle – Cumming would not say yes or no.
“I think the importance for me right now is to make sure that this report is substantive and Erin’s style as a leader that I think will take the report very seriously,” he said. “I think he will learn and he will take advantage of what we get out of the report.”
Cumming said his job is to make fact-based recommendations that reflect “what people are saying and what the data is saying.”
“What happens to that after? It’s definitely up to the leader, the assembly and the party,” he said.
O’Toole wants report before year-end
O’Toole has said he would like a post-mortem report completed before the end of the year — something Cumming has called a tight time frame. He said he “puts together a bit of a team” to help him get the job done.
“I do not want to let time be the only variable because you know you want good content. But I think if I get it right away, I can make a report that has the kind of content that we need, “he said.
The conservative candidates who are running for office all want to form a government and make a difference, Cumming said, and much of his work will be to decide on the best way to get there.
“It is important for the country that the Conservative Party is competitive and can demonstrate that it is ready to form a government,” he said.