If the contest for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership is a race of ideas, then Erin O’Toole is running away with it — mostly because Peter MacKay is still tying his shoes. With MacKay widely assumed to be a moderate force within the party, the less known O’Toole has been free to cast himself as the “real” conservative option: the “anti-Trudeau,” as his campaign has branded him. Among other things he says he would cancel the print media bailout, “crack down on violent criminals” and move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. While Andrew Scheer sometimes seemed timid in defence of his more controversial policies, one can imagine Conservatives enjoying O’Toole’s forthrightness.

Branding aside, though, by all objective measures O’Toole is himself a moderate. So when he vows not to steer the party “to the middle,” as he did in a CBC interview this week, it sounds a bit odd. “The media is saying: ‘Just go over to the middle and just be a little to the right of the Liberal Party.’ That’s not going to work,” he told supporters last week in Penticton, B.C. “As Stephen Harper showed, you can be a principled and unabashed Conservative (and win).”

OK, but here’s the thing: Policy-wise, the Conservative Party of Canada is already in the middle. That’s right where Harper parked it, just to the right of the Liberals, and it hasn’t moved since.