Erin O’Toole learns if his caucus wants to keep him as Conservative party leader
Published February 2, 2022 at 5:27 am
OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole will learn today if he gets to keep his job.
And party members will find out if they will be asked to select a new leader for the third time in just over six years.
The crucial vote for both the leader and the party will unfold as Conservative MPs meet virtually to decide his fate.
O’Toole’s leadership was put to the test this week when around one-third of his 118-member caucus signed a letter requesting that a vote be held.
His caucus voted in a rule after last year’s election loss to the Liberals that allows itself to trigger a leadership review.
Conservative MPs will now be asked whether they endorse or want to replace O’Toole in a secret ballot vote.
If he is removed by a majority vote, caucus would then have to pick a new interim leader.
Leading up to Wednesday’s vote, O’Toole and his team were calling different MPs seeking their support.
Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer also shared a statement with caucus from 21 former Conservative MPs, including former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, that calls for a new leader.
“Erin O’Toole has not only failed to unite the party, his words and actions in recent days have created greater disunity,” reads the statement obtained by The Canadian Press.
“It is time for him to step aside for the good of the Conservative Party and the nation.”
Garnett Genuis is among the Conservative MPs looking to oust O’Toole and expressed confidence Tuesday about the likelihood that the group has the numbers it needs to remove him.
O’Toole, a 48-year-old Ontario MP, took over the reins of the party in August 2020.
The corporate lawyer and Air Force veteran was first elected in a byelection in 2012 in the riding of Durham, a region his father also represented when he was in provincial politics.
O’Toole served as a cabinet minister for veterans affairs in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before it fell to the Liberals in the 2015 election.
He then put his name forward to be interim leader but lost. He tried again, this time for the party leadership in 2017, but placed third behind Andrew Scheer.
One of the major knocks critics have against O’Toole began after the 2020 race where he ran as the “true blue” candidate over former cabinet minister Peter MacKay.
Once in power, O’Toole told party members changes were needed if it hoped to make gains in electorally-important regions like the Greater Toronto Area.
In an attempt to modernize the party and differentiate himself from Scheer — whose social conservative views dogged him in the 2019 campaign — O’Toole promoted his support of access to abortion and LGBTQ rights.
He also embraced carbon pricing, despite the fact that some of his MPs, including many in Western Canada, fought for years against the Liberal government’s carbon tax. During the leadership contest, O’Toole pledged that it would be scrapped.
During last year’s election campaign O’Toole tried to attract more voters by putting a more moderate stamp on the party.
He also raised the ire of firearms activists and social conservatives by reversing course on promises midway through the race that were inked into his platform when he was being attacked by the Liberals.
Critics like Sen. Denise Batters, who last November began petitioning the party to hold an early leadership review, said his flip-flops damaged his image with Canadians and made him untrustworthy.
Others also point out that O’Toole finished with two fewer seats than Scheer, and failed to make gains the party needed in major cities and suburbs.
Since his election defeat, O’Toole has struggled to bring his caucus together on issues like vaccine mandates, with many of his MPs feeling the party needed to take a tougher stand against such policies.
He has also faced pressure to more forcefully oppose a controversial secularism law in Quebec and faced pushback from members of the party’s social conservative wing for fast-tracking a government bill to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ Canadians.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Pressinsauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising