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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole faces an important 48 hours. He has two chances to show Canadians that there are two prime ministers on the debate stage – the current one and the next one.

Round one in last week’s TVA debate could have been a death blow to the Conservative campaign, as it was for his predecessor, Andrew Scheer. While the judges’ score card didn’t give him the win, he didn’t lose either – which might be just as good. According to Abacus Data, almost half of those who watched or heard something about the TVA debate said that Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau left a positive impression. Only 35 percent felt the same about O’Toole. The debate, however, does not appear to have changed voter intention.

Round two and three tonight and tomorrow could be a different story. A large pool of undecided voters remain within O’Toole’s reach. Right now, seven per cent of voters say they don’t know enough about the Conservative leader, while 22 per cent are neutral. Within this group, 48 per cent are open to voting for the Conservatives.

O’Toole’s goal will be to show those voters that he’s not the scary threat that Justin Trudeau says he is. O’Toole’s shift towards the more moderate centre has increased the Conservatives’ accessible voter pool. Among its current supporters, 76 per cent voted for the party in 2019, while 23 per cent are new supporters. Unfortunately for O’Toole, the Liberals have matched that growth, which explains why the Tories remain in a statistical tie in the polls. O’Toole needs a strong performance over the next 48 hours in vote-rich Quebec and Ontario to win over more supporters and build on the party’s 2019 results.

O’Toole must make sure that he is not baited into trading punches with Trudeau. The Liberal campaign will attempt to get the Conservative leader on the ropes with mandatory vaccinations, vaccine passports, anti-Liberal protests, his uncosted platform, and the flip-flop on assault weapons. 

O’Toole does not need to deliver a knockout punch over the next two nights. Instead, he needs to stay on his toes, avoid a Trudeau uppercut and showcase himself as the prime minister-in-waiting.

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