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The walls are closing in on federal Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole.

The Opposition Leader heads into a caucus retreat this week a marked man. Influential conservatives outside government aren’t too thrilled with him either. The question is how far his supporters will go to defend him and keep him in the job, with so little apparent support for the man.

An Abacus poll published last month showed just 23 per cent of Canadians surveyed had a positive view of Mr. O’Toole, versus 40 per cent for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and 42 per cent for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Meantime, reviews of his performance have been scathing. If Mr. O’Toole were a Broadway show he’d be closed by now. His critics have focused on many things, including the oddly animated nature of the videos he posts to social media.

In perhaps his most infamous, Mr. O’Toole misleadingly accused federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault of planning to end fossil fuel development in Canada in 18 months. But one wondered watching it why he felt compelled to gesticulate wildly, like a “coked-out, second-string Fox News host,” according to Andrew MacDougall, one-time director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper, in a piece in the Ottawa Citizen.

Even noted Donald Trump supporter Conrad Black has gotten in on the act. In a recent piece in the National Post, Mr. Black eviscerated Mr. O’Toole for being a “Liberal look-alike” while calling himself a Conservative. He said if the Opposition Leader remains in the job, then his “docile MPs should resign themselves to defeat.”

Increasingly, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre is the one to watch. The party’s finance critic seems to be driving his own, high-profile agenda. Say what you will about his take on various issues, at least he delivers them with conviction and authenticity – something sorely lacking in Mr. O’Toole’s press conferences and videos.

You wonder if Mr. Poilievre even bothers running his material past the Leader.

In a recent tweet, Mr. Poilievre laments that “COVID has become a never-ending excuse for power-hungry authorities to replace our freedom with their control. Enough. Reopen our businesses, let our truckers drive and restore freedom for all.”

Odd. I don’t recall Mr. O’Toole calling for an end to all pandemic-related restrictions.

After an earlier tweet of Mr. Poilievre’s denouncing “vaccine vendettas,” Conservative MP Mark Strahl said on Twitter: “Thank you @PierrePoilievre for your clear and decisive leadership.” Conservative MPs aren’t even disguising their disdain for Mr. O’Toole now.

Meantime, a new Nanos poll conducted for The Globe and Mail shows Mr. Poilievre has significantly more support among Canadians than Mr. O’Toole, a survey that is bound to cast a long shadow over the CPC’s retreat. It also says Canadians are five times more likely to say Mr. O’Toole has done a poor job as leader than an excellent one. Not good.

In a further rebuke of the Leader’s authority, Saskatchewan’s Conservative MPs refused to kick Senator Denise Batters out of their regional parliamentary group in open defiance of Mr. O’Toole, who earlier booted her out of the national Conservative caucus for challenging his leadership.

At the CPC caucus retreat this week, former Conservative MP James Cumming is expected to deliver his report into the party’s performance in the 2021 election. If it attempts to lay blame for the party’s defeat mostly on the pandemic and factors beyond the Leader’s control, it will not be well received. It could lead to some tense and angry moments inside that meeting room that are familiar. A caucus meeting in December was characterized as a “bloodbath” in a report in the Toronto Star.

The Conservatives seem destined to mutiny. The ultra-conservative rump in caucus seems to believe Mr. Poilievre is the answer to all that ails the party. Others who think a more moderate but serious-minded policy agenda offers the best chance of regaining power are having their voices drowned out by those who say the party grassroots won’t support a “Bay Street” view of things.

Other than the pay and the cool house you get to live in as Opposition leader, you have to wonder why Erin O’Toole even wants the job any more. He’s clearly having to front policies he doesn’t believe in (see his objection to vaccine mandates) and yet he risks losing critical support inside caucus if he doesn’t.

He likely knows, too, that some of these policies are putting the CPC offside with a majority of Canadians. The problem is, they are policies backed by party donors, many of whom reside in rural parts of the country where support for things such as vaccine mandates is low and backing for trucker protests is high.

This week’s retreat is important for Mr. O’Toole and his party. Conservative MPs need to decide, once and for all, whether they support the Leader and the direction he’s taking the party.

The current situation is untenable.

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