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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks during a news conference responding to the federal government’s COVID-19 response, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Jan. 6, 2022.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has been putting down internal rebellions ever since last fall’s general election. This week, he is facing his greatest challenge yet: a new variant of concern running wild in his party.

Three high-profile MPs have openly defied Mr. O’Toole by coming out in support of the convoy of don’t-vax-me truckers snaking its way eastward on the Trans-Canada Highway as a protest against Ottawa’s newly imposed cross-border vaccine mandates for drivers.

One of the three, Pierre Poilievre, was named as the best choice to lead the Conservatives into the next election in a recent Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail. Another, Candice Bergen, is the deputy leader of the party. The third rebel is Andrew Scheer, the previous leader.

As well, heading into a caucus retreat on Wednesday, Mr. O’Toole faced calls for an early leadership review from at least two riding associations. All of this has led to speculation that Mr. O’Toole has run out of allies, and may have to consider stepping down.

Here’s a better idea for Mr. O’Toole: Step up.

Ever since the Trudeau government brought in vaccine mandates for federal employees and people travelling by rail or plane last year, Mr. O’Toole has tried to straddle the fence, saying he supports vaccines but not mandates, and opposes mandates but not vaccines.

That weak position, and his obvious lack of enthusiasm for it, left him without answers (again) this week when reporters repeatedly tried and failed to get him to take a position on the truckers’ protest.

This page has spent the past year advocating for the scientifically obvious, which is that vaccination is key to getting beyond the pandemic. We have supported vaccine passports in non-essential businesses, and vaccine mandates in workplaces and higher education.

We also questioned the cost-benefit analysis behind the vaccine mandate for truckers, which requires a cross-border driver returning from the U.S. to be fully vaccinated in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine.

But whatever the merits of Canada doing away with the border mandate, the case is now moot: Last weekend, the White House imposed a similar mandate, which means that, even if Ottawa reversed itself, the 15 per cent of Canadian truckers who aren’t vaccinated are still stuck on this side of the border.

And in any case, the convoy has devolved into a promotional vehicle for all manner of anti-vaxxers, take-back-my-country types and conspiracy hucksters, including such luminaries as Donald Trump Jr.

Those in the convoy are of course within their rights to protest peacefully. But they, along with the Conservative MPs supporting them, are completely out of touch with the vast majority of Canadians.

As of this week, 91 per cent of Canadian adults have had at least one shot, and more than 88 per cent are double-dosed.

Mr. Trudeau, the guy who imposed federal vaccine mandates – because he knew they would be popular – has twice the support of Mr. O’Toole in recent polls.

And who are Canada’s two most prominent conservative politicians, both of whom appear to be cruising to re-election? That would be Premier Doug Ford of Ontario, who has gone so far as to eject four MPPs from his caucus for opposing public-health measures or refusing to get vaccinated; and François Legault in Quebec, the country’s most enthusiastic imposer of mandates to get people vaccinated.

Mr. Legault’s latest idea, a tax on the unvaccinated, is surprisingly popular. A recent Nanos Research Poll found that 60 per cent of Canadians support or somewhat support the idea, including 72 per cent of people over 55 – the age group most likely to lean Conservative.

So why are some Conservative MPs loudly supporting a small group of denialists in big rigs? Why are they buying into an anarchic, anti-social distortion of “freedom” that’s imported from the U.S.?

Conservatives are supposed to be the people who believe in law and order, common sense and protecting your community. Mr. O’Toole needs to stand up for the silent majority of Canadians – the overwhelming majority, including among his own voters – who understand that the past two years have been a real public-health crisis, not a hoax. He would be doing himself, his country and his party a favour.

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