If Erin O’Toole’s position on vaccine mandates, conscience rights, guns, defunding the CBC and carbon taxes is any indication, his expulsion of Senator Denise Batters from the Conservative caucus should last only a few days.
Soon, he will emerge from Stornoway slightly chastened and subdued, where he will announce that instead of being removed from the party caucus, Ms. Batters will be rewarded with praise and riches as thanks for her outspokenness. Mr. O’Toole will conclude his press conference by extolling CBC News for its exceptional political coverage, and then dramatically strip off his blazer to reveal a “Climate Justice Now!” t-shirt underneath.
The other possibility is that Mr. O’Toole will actually stand on principle and uphold Ms. Batters’ expulsion, which would be a good indication that Mr. O’Toole has finally decided – albeit belatedly, and rather corrosively for his party – that now is time for him to start acting like a leader.
On Tuesday evening, Mr. O’Toole released a statement saying that Ms. Batters, who launched a petition earlier in the week calling for an expedited review of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership, had been removed from the Conservative National Caucus. “As the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, 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,” Mr. O’Toole said in the statement.
It was the first time in many months that the Conservative leader has demonstrated much decisiveness on anything. For the duration of the recent election campaign, Mr. O’Toole was being led around by the nose by a Liberal war room that succeeded in setting the daily agenda and elicited flip-flops from him on a handful of aforementioned policy issues. After the election, Mr. O’Toole was being led around by the nose by his own caucus on the matter of vaccinations, which eventually culminated in a group of MPs forming their own “civil liberties caucus” to defend the rights of unvaccinated Canadians. Throughout it all, Mr. O’Toole wavered, reacted, recanted and revised, but what he hadn’t been doing much of is leading.
That is, perhaps, why Ms. Batters’ petition was so wounding. In a video accompanying the petition, she noted that “As leader, Mr. O’Toole has watered down and even entirely reversed our policy positions.”
“He flip-flopped on our policies within the same week, same day and even within the same sentence,” she continued.
Those claims are largely irrefutable, and it is indeed tough to make the case that Mr. O’Toole’s performance so far entitles him to remain at the helm of the party. The official response to the petition from Conservative Party President Rob Batherson was that Ms. Batters’ request was out of order – that is, contrary to the rules set out in the Constitution of the Conservative Party of Canada – which is not exactly the full-throated defence of his record that Mr. O’Toole might have desired. Indeed, there is a chasm of faith and loyalty between a response that states, “Technically you can’t do this,” and one that says, “Erin is great; he’s is 100 per cent our guy.”
The current argument in favour of Mr. O’Toole retaining his position doesn’t have much to do with him as an individual, or with the direction in which he has taken the party (particularly since that direction appears to be wherever the wind blows). It is, rather, a case for long-term continuity of leadership – an appeal for time to work out the kinks to try to do better the next time Canadians go to the polls. A party forever cycling through leaders every year or two, after all, will have a tough time convincing the electorate that it should be trusted with the reins of Parliament.
Mr. O’Toole would be in a position to mount a case for entrusting him, specifically, to lead the party into the next election had he meaningfully led the party through and after the last one. Now he will have to deal with the additional challenge of trying to heal the fractures within the party, which have only been exacerbated by banishing a Senator for speaking out against his record.
Surely those within the party would have much preferred if Mr. O’Toole had shown this level of resolve and authority on matters of actual importance to Canadians – on issues of policy and governance – than on an single episode of internal insubordination. Mr. O’Toole is finally showing signs of decisiveness and determination; it’s just too bad that a now-former member of his own party had to be his first target.
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