The Conservative Party does not have a monopoly on self-destruction while in opposition. Just ask Annamie Paul, Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff or Tom Mulcair, whose tenures as party leaders ended up being doomed by internal sniping they could not control.
Conservatives, however, generally have more practice at this sort of thing – which is why the odds appear increasingly slim that Erin O’Toole will be able to put the lid on the revolt brewing within his party. Tory dissent is breaking out all over, and Mr. O’Toole’s moral authority over his own party – which was weak to begin with – is now almost non-existent.
Many Tory insiders who claim to know the “real” Erin O’Toole insist he is prime-ministerial material, with the breadth of knowledge, intelligence and temperament for the job. But because he appears to stand for nothing for more than a week or two at a time, Mr. O’Toole has made it hard for average Canadians, much less members of his own party, to trust him.
He won the Tory leadership on false pretenses, pandering to social conservatives and gun owners only to disown them as he pivoted to the centre for the federal election campaign. A more skilled politician might have been able to pull it off, but Mr. O’Toole’s charisma deficit caught up with him. He was also woefully unprepared to mount much of a defence against Liberal accusations that a Tory government would scrap gun controls and coddle anti-vaxxers.
But contrary to a petition launched this week by Senator Denise Batters calling for a leadership review, Mr. O’Toole did not lose the recent election “by every measure.” The Conservatives got more votes than the Liberals, and Mr. O’Toole made headway in detoxifying the Tory brand among centrist voters who were repelled by Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer. While Mr. O’Toole’s flip-flops turned off many potential supporters, he was mostly dogged by voter fears that the Harper-Scheer wing of the party would dictate an O’Toole government’s agenda.
Ms. Batters appears to have drawn all the wrong conclusions from the election results. The Conservatives failed to win more seats in urban Canada not because Mr. O’Toole reversed the party’s position on carbon taxes, firearms or conscience rights, but rather because voters suspected that Tories of Ms. Batters’s ilk would inevitably prevent him from staying the centrist course.
Ms. Batters is playing entirely into Liberal hands by validating such suspicions. Ditto for Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu, whose creation of a ”civil liberties caucus” for Tory backbenchers opposed to mandatory vaccination has Liberals celebrating; they set a trap for the Tories and Ms. Gladu walked right into it. Instead of looking principled, she and her cohorts just come off as selfish extremists to an overwhelming majority of pandemic-weary Canadians.
Mr. O’Toole has since removed Ms. Batters from the Tory caucus, saying, “I will not tolerate an individual discrediting and showing a clear lack of respect towards the efforts of the entire Conservative caucus, who are holding the corrupt and disastrous Trudeau government to account.” But unfortunately for Mr. O’Toole, it is probably too late to undo the damage that she and Ms. Gladu have inflicted on his leadership.
It has become increasingly clear, however, that the Harper-Scheer wing of the party will not be satisfied until it succeeds in ousting Mr. O’Toole. It does not really matter whether party operatives declare that Ms. Batters’s petition violates the party’s constitution, a contention that is highly contestable in itself; the petition’s mere existence will only serve to embolden others who are nostalgic for the Reform Party to call for Mr. O’Toole’s removal. And that will only expose the 2003 merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party for the fraud that many centrist Tories have always believed it to be. After all, Mr. Harper managed to maintain the illusion of a united Canadian right – until he indulged his worst Reformist instincts after winning a majority government in 2011.
Alberta MP Tim Uppal, who was minister of state for multiculturalism under Mr. Harper, said this week that the 2015 campaign promise to create a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline continues to sow distrust toward the party among racialized Canadians. “I want to be at a place where I could say: ‘Okay, you’re right, that happened, shouldn’t have happened, I should have been more vocal. And that would not happen under today’s Conservative Party,’” said Mr. Uppal, who was tapped by Mr. O’Toole to lead the party’s minority outreach efforts.
The problem is, most Canadians still have no idea what “today’s Conservative Party” stands for. All they know is that, with people such as Ms. Batters and Ms. Gladu garnering all the headlines, it is not a party they want anything to do with.
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