Skip to main content

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole buttons his jacket as he arrives for the first party caucus after the federal election on Oct. 5.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The governing body of the Conservative Party of Canada has officially ruled that a controversial petition to have an early vote on Erin O’Toole’s leadership is invalid.

The party’s national council made the decision during a weekend meeting in Ottawa. Party president Robert Batherson said in a statement that he had informed the petition’s organizer, Senator Denise Batters.

He added that Mr. O’Toole was not present for discussion on the matter and didn’t participate in the council’s vote on the petition’s validity. The council, he said, made the decision after a review by its legal affairs committee, with input from the party’s legal counsel.

Mr. O’Toole ousted Ms. Batters from the national Conservative caucus in November, shortly after she went public with her effort to unseat him. Her petition, launched on Nov. 15, sought a review of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership within six months, rather than at the 2023 Conservative leadership convention as scheduled. As of Sunday, the petition had accumulated “7100+” signatures, according to its website.

The Tories can win the next election – but they need to learn the right lessons

Ms. Batters, who was appointed to the Senate in 2013 on the advice of prime minister Stephen Harper, has criticized Mr. O’Toole’s performance in the recent election campaign. She has accused him of watering down and reversing past Conservative policies, and has blamed him for the party’s election loss, as well as its losses of ethnically diverse and female MPs.

She has also said Mr. O’Toole is not capable of leading the Conservatives to victory in the next national election.

On Sunday, Ms. Batters’ office issued a statement in which she accused Mr. Batherson of offering a “dismissive and perfunctory” response to Conservative party members who support the petition.

She said she wants to know exactly why the council found the petition invalid, and who among the council’s members voted in favour of that decision.

And she vowed to proceed with the petition. “We will continue these efforts to ensure our members have their say not only on Mr. O’Toole’s leadership, but also on the future direction of our party,” she said. “Conservative Party leadership cannot silence the voices of many thousands of our grassroots members.”

Mr. Batherson had previously said that the petition was invalid because it violated three sections of the party’s constitution. He reiterated that view on Sunday. “The reality is that the petition is not valid,” he told The Globe and Mail. “It’s not going anywhere, and it’s important for everybody to know that.”

In a recent letter to the national council, Marilyn Elliott, who served on the council until March, disputed Mr. Batherson’s interpretation of the party’s rules.

She accused Mr. Batherson of “an indefensible attempt to thwart a compliant petition and silence the thousands of requests for a referendum of the party membership.”

In November, days after the petition launch, Mr. O’Toole said the Conservative caucus is focused on the economy, the pandemic and the “corrupt and cover-up-prone” Liberal government.

“Anyone who is not on that page, who’s not putting the team and the country first, will not be part of this team,” he told reporters.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.