Erin O’Toole said on Tuesday he has enough support from his caucus to keep his job, even as his elected caucus members voted to give themselves the power to oust him as leader and one MP advocated for the party membership to hold a speedy vote on Mr. O’Toole’s future.
During the first meeting of Conservative senators and members of Parliament since the party’s defeat in the Sept. 20 federal election, MPs voted through the Reform Act to give themselves the power to boot Mr. O’Toole, acting on his advice to do so, according to one person who was at the Tuesday meeting in Ottawa.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because they were not permitted to disclose what happened in the closed-door gathering.
At a news conference after the meeting, Mr. O’Toole said the caucus is united behind him.
“This is not about a sword of Damocles hanging over my head. We’re united as a team. This is about having a fair and transparent process that a team must have when it respects one another,” Mr. O’Toole said.
The Conservative Leader, elected to the post in August, 2020, also fleshed out a previous commitment to launch an assessment of the Conservative election effort.
He said former Edmonton MP James Cumming, who supported Peter MacKay in last year’s leadership race, will do a “360 review” on where the party excelled and where it failed.
The party won 119 seats in the Sept. 20 election, down two from the 2019 campaign under Andrew Scheer. The Tories lost seats in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, failed to break through in the Greater Toronto Area, and lost three Alberta seats to the Liberals and NDP. However, they made gains in rural ridings or smaller urban centres.
After the party’s 2019 election loss, MPs did not give themselves the power to remove their leader. Mr. Scheer tried to stay on, but resigned within two months. To trigger a leadership vote within caucus, 20 per cent of MPs would have to request the review. The caucus chair would then order a secret ballot among Conservative MPs.
Tuesday’s meeting was Mr. O’Toole’s first major test since the party’s defeat. He faces some discontent from caucus, but it’s unclear how deep that frustration runs among Conservative MPs. Participants leaving the meeting largely said they supported him, and avoided disclosing details about the discussions, citing caucus confidentiality.
On his way out of the meeting, Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre broke his silence on Mr. O’Toole and said that “of course” he supports him. “He’s the legitimate leader of the party,” Mr. Poilievre said. He also said he has no interest, himself, in seeking the leadership.
Rookie MP Leslyn Lewis, who placed third in the 2020 leadership race and was elected in Ontario, described a “very, very amicable, civil, decent” gathering. But she was mum on her support for Mr. O’Toole staying as leader, saying, “That’s something the caucus will decide on.”
She said the Conservatives did well in a tough election given the number of issues at hand. She said wedge issues were used to divide the country instead of uniting it.
Ms. Lewis described the Conservatives as a “very strong, united party.”
Among the MPs who spoke with reporters before the meeting, Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs was the most critical of the Conservative election campaign. She said she wants the party to allow members to vote on Mr. O’Toole’s future within six months, rather than waiting until the 2023 convention.
“I lost three great colleagues in Alberta, in Edmonton and Calgary. Of course I’m not happy,” Ms. Stubbs said before the meeting.
She wants the party to “account for the serious losses that we took in the GTA, in Metro Vancouver.”
Mr. O’Toole declined to say at the news conference after the meeting whether he would move up the membership vote on his tenure.
Ms. Stubbs said she wants MPs to get the full details of the campaign review.
“The reality is that today, after the 2021 election, Conservatives are more rural, more homogeneous than we’ve ever been before,” she said.
Ms. Stubbs won her Lakeland riding in a landslide with 69.4 per cent of the vote. The People’s Party of Canada candidate finished a distant second with 11.1 per cent of the vote. Even so, Ms. Stubbs took issue with her own result because she said she had bigger margins of victory in 2019 and 2015.
“What I want to hear from the leader is a clear accounting of why we lost seats in the very areas we needed to win; why we lost capable, competent Conservatives in urban areas; and I do want to hear a clear roadmap on how we are going to win those areas based on Conservative values, because Conservatives should campaign as Conservatives,” Ms. Stubbs said.
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