Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Sept. 21, 2021. Conservative members of Parliament are to vote Tuesday on whether to reserve the right to remove Mr. O’Toole as leader.
A veteran Conservative senator is urging members of the party’s caucus to give themselves the option to oust Erin O’Toole as a result of the federal Conservative Leader’s performance in the recent federal election campaign.
Nova Scotia Senator Michael MacDonald’s recommendation, sent in an e-mail to caucus members obtained by The Globe and Mail, came a day ahead of the Tory caucus’s first meeting, on Tuesday, since the election last month.
Story continues below advertisement
Conservative members of Parliament are to vote on whether to reserve the right to remove Mr. O’Toole as leader using provisions of the Reform Act of 2014, which sets rules for caucuses to manage a range of issues.
“To vote against the right to hold a leadership review is folly,” Mr. MacDonald wrote. “Voting in favour of a review vote is not pleasant, but it is necessary. The status quo under the present circumstances is a mistake and a gift to the Liberals that this party and this country cannot afford.”
While senators do not vote, Mr. MacDonald urged MPs to heed his concerns.
The senator, appointed in 2009, is the first sitting member of the Conservative caucus to explicitly call for a review of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership. Mr. MacDonald’s criticisms include Mr. O’Toole’s efforts to move the party to the centre and his communication style. “Erin compounded the problem by often answering questions with long talking points and evading the questions that left people wondering about him,” he said.
The party won 119 seats in the Sept. 20 election, down two from the 2019 campaign under Andrew Scheer. The Tories lost seats in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, failed to break through in the Greater Toronto Area, and lost three Alberta seats to the Liberals and NDP. However, they made gains in rural ridings or smaller urban centres.
“The only conclusion that can be drawn from these numbers is that the leader’s conscious decision to move the Conservative Party to the left has been a strategic failure as we not only failed to make a breakthrough in the GTA as promised, we actually lost seats,” Mr. MacDonald said.
In a brief e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Monday, Mr. MacDonald said, “the letter is straight-forward and needs little interpretation. It speaks for itself.”
Story continues below advertisement
The caucus will meet as Mr. O’Toole is facing questions raised by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation about his housing expenses.
Expenditure reports between August, 2020, when Mr. O’Toole became Conservative Leader, and January, 2021, show three monthly $2,300 claims for a secondary residence expense for Mr. O’Toole.
Members who own or rent a secondary residence in the National Capital Region or in their constituency can claim expenses related to the declared secondary residence. The House of Commons administration processes the payments.
When Mr. O’Toole was elected Conservative Leader on Aug. 24, 2020, he had a residence in Bowmanville, Ont., in his riding of Durham, and a home in Ottawa. But he did not immediately move into Stornaway, official residence of opposition leaders, because it was undergoing renovations, and he and his wife were in quarantine for COVID-19.
But the Members’ Allowances and Services Manual, which spells out the rules for MPs, says the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Speaker and the Prime Minister are not eligible to claim secondary residence expenses.
Conservative Party spokesman Jake Enwright, speaking for Mr. O’Toole on Monday, said the leader did not make the claims, they were made in error by the House of Commons administration as a result of an automatic payment system.
When the error was identified in March, 2021, Mr. O’Toole returned the payments, Mr. Enwright said.
The taxpayers federation has been monitoring the situation, and its federal director, Franco Terrazzano, said there seems to have been some “clumsy paperwork” related to Mr. O’Toole’s secondary-residence expenses. He added that it is an issue of concern even if the amounts seem relatively small.
“Taxpayers expect the government, the civil service and politicians to be doing the big things right in terms of finding the big savings, but also expect them to do the little things right as well,” Mr. Terrazzano said in an interview.
“You can’t just let the little things get out of control because then they become big things and big costs to taxpayers. That’s why it’s so important to get the processes right and keep an eye on the little things. I don’t think the Conservatives would disagree with that.”
Mr. O’Toole’s Ottawa residence has since been rented out. Mr. O’Toole and his family now live in Stornaway, and Mr. Enwright said the Conservative Leader no longer claims secondary-residence expenses.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.