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Conservative caucus revolt triggers vote on Erin O’Toole’s leadership

Erin O'Toole says all Conservative MPs will be in the House of Commons on Monday-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole arrives at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is facing an internal revolt and some members of his caucus are prepared to trigger a vote on his future as early as Wednesday, sources told CBC News.

MPs opposed to O’Toole’s leadership have collected enough signatures — 35 so far — to hold a secret ballot to decide his fate, sources said.

The organizers of this effort have brought a letter with the names of the anti-O’Toole MPs to Scott Reid, the Conservative caucus chair. In a memo to all Tory MPs on Monday, Reid said he is prepared to have the vote on Wednesday’s national caucus meeting.

A vote by 50 per cent plus one of the 119 sitting Conservative MPs calling on O’Toole to step down would force him to make way for an interim leader immediately.

Sources tell CBC News that O’Toole’s caucus opponents believe they have the necessary votes, with at least 60 MPs agreeing that he has to go.

But in a statement Monday night, O’Toole said he has no plans to step down.

“I’m not going anywhere and I’m not turning back,” he said in a Facebook post. “Canada needs us to be united and serious.”

Sources said the anti-O’Toole contingent has had more than enough signatures to prompt such a vote for weeks, but they held back triggering the secret ballot process until they could be sure a majority of MPs were ready to cast him aside.

“He’s done it to himself,” a source said of O’Toole. “He’s done nothing to endear himself to caucus.

“After the election, the support from caucus was a reflex. It wasn’t support for Erin, it was, ‘C’mon guys, do we really want to do this again?’ Erin has done nothing since then to win them over.”

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal party matters.

Tories have choice of 2 paths, O’Toole says

In his statement, O’Toole said he is ready to square off with the MPs intent on bringing him down.

He said Conservative MPs have a choice between “two roads” in the upcoming caucus vote, one is “angry, negative and extreme,” while the other will take the party in a more modern direction with an embrace of “inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope.”

O’Toole said the first option is a “dead end” that will see the party become “the NDP of the right,” a protest party rather than a viable alternative to the Liberal Party. The second road will ensure the party “better reflects the Canada of 2022.

Amid the fracas over his future, O’Toole said “it’s a time for a reckoning” and MPs must decide if they’re with him — or with the likes of Randy Hillier and Derek Sloan, two right-wing politicians who were ejected from the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the federal Tories respectively.

O’Toole said he will accept the result of the caucus vote and “the signers of the letter must accept it too. They brought it. They’ll have to live with it.”

Conservative sources were floating several names Monday night of possible candidates for interim leader, but a source close to former leader Andrew Scheer said the Saskatchewan MP will not put his name forward.

Conservative MP Bob Benzen-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Conservative MP Bob Benzen, seen here addressing supporters in April 2017, says O’Toole has failed to deliver on promises made during the Tories’ last leadership race. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)

Disappointing results

Conservative MP Bob Benzen, who represents the riding of Calgary Heritage, said in a statement that caucus must have a say on O’Toole’s future because he produced disappointing results in the last election. Benzen is one of only seven sitting MPs who backed O’Toole in both the 2017 and 2020 Conservative leadership contests.

Benzen said O’Toole won the last leadership race in part because he promised to be a “principled conservative voice,” and yet adopted what Benzen called a “de facto carbon tax” and flip-flopped on firearms policy midway through the campaign.

O’Toole also won the leadership by promising to make inroads in the Greater Toronto Area. “Yet the Conservatives have, on net, lost a seat in the GTA under his leadership,” Benzen said, adding the party also dropped seats in Western Canada.

Benzen’s statement did not give a clear indication what if any involvement he might have in the effort to oust O’Toole.

Saskatchewan Sen Denise Batters-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters launched a petition last fall calling for a vote on Erin O’Toole’s leadership. (Chris Rands/CBC)

He also criticized O’Toole for failing to “clearly stand up for the charter rights of Canadians during a pandemic,” a reference to vaccine mandates.

A senior Conservative source close to O’Toole, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said this revolt stems from the December vote on the conversion therapy ban.

That source said the “far right of the party” is angry that O’Toole let that Liberal government legislation pass through both chambers at the end of the last session.

This source said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis is “spearheading the coup because he was in Latvia when we gave unanimous consent to make conversion therapy illegal.”

“This was all started by the group that are internally referred to as ‘the conversion crew,'” the source.

In a statement on social media, Genuis said members of O’Toole’s communications team are trying to “personally smear me by misstating my position on conversion therapy,” something he said was “beyond the pale.”

Faced criticism since election defeat

While he said he is not an organizer of the effort to remove O’Toole, Genuis said he did sign the letter calling for a leadership review. He said at least a third of the caucus, representing what he called a “broad cross-section of opinion,” want O’Toole out of the job.

“Mr. O’Toole should recognize that his position is untenable, rather than using lies to publicly attack members of his own team,” Genuis said.

O’Toole has faced criticism about his leadership since the day after the September election when Bert Chen, a now-suspended member of the party’s national council, called for his resignation.

“The feedback I have gotten over the past several months is that Mr. O’Toole has failed as a leader,” Chen told CBC News at the time, calling his flip-flops on carbon pricing, firearms and balanced budgets a “betrayal” for those who backed O’Toole in the leadership race.

Bert Chen-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Bert Chen, a two-term member of the Conservative party’s elected national council, launched a petition calling for O’Toole’s ouster after the last federal election. (CBC)

Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters later went public with her concerns, calling for an early leadership review well before a planned vote on his fate at the 2023 Conservative convention.

While O’Toole campaigned as a “true blue” Conservative in the leadership race, Batters has said he subsequently ran an election campaign “nearly indistinguishable from Trudeau’s Liberals.”

“Mr. O’Toole flip-flopped on policies core to our party within the same week, the same day, and even within the same sentence. The members didn’t have a say on that, but we must have one on his leadership,” Batters said in November.

O’Toole booted Batters out of the national caucus of MPs and senators after she launched a petition urging party members to back an earlier vote on his leadership. The Conservative Senate caucus and the Saskatchewan regional caucus subsequently agreed to keep her as a member of their respective groups in defiance of O’Toole’s wishes.

CBC

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