In the first public challenge to Erin O’Toole from within his own ranks, a member of the Conservative Party’s national council says the Tory Leader should face an accelerated leadership review for “betraying” members during the election campaign.
Bert Chen, an elected national council member from Ontario, says many party members are upset with Mr. O’Toole’s attempt to make the party appear more centrist, which they believe resulted in the Tories’ loss of seats in Monday’s vote, as well as diminished support in urban areas.
“The feedback from the members ... is that Erin has betrayed their trust, and that Erin’s leadership based off of these results is a failure, and he needs to go,” Mr. Chen said in an interview.
“Accountability and integrity are central to what Conservatives want out of a leader, which is why we don’t like Justin Trudeau. But Erin O’Toole has demonstrated he’s no better than Justin Trudeau.”
Mr. Chen has launched an online petition to trigger a review of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership. The Conservative Party’s constitution says the national council is responsible for conducting referendums in response to valid petitions, but doesn’t specify the conditions for validity.
During a leadership review, party members vote on whether or not to begin the process of selecting a new leader.
Even if the bid to force a review fails, Mr. O’Toole will eventually face such a vote. The party’s constitution requires a leadership review at the party’s first national convention following an election loss. That convention is scheduled for August, 2023.
In Monday’s election, the Conservatives gained seats in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, but lost seats in Alberta and British Columbia.
As of Tuesday, the Liberal Party was leading or elected in 158 ridings – 12 seats short of the 170 required to form a majority government. The Conservatives were leading or elected in 119 ridings, two fewer than the party won under former leader Andrew Scheer in the 2019 election.
After the election, Mr. O’Toole said he was disappointed with the Tories’ performance and promised to launch a review of the party’s electoral strategy. But he vowed to stay on as leader, arguing the country could be in another election campaign in as little as 18 months. The party has not yet released details of the review, including who will be leading it.
Mr. Chen said he doesn’t trust Mr. O’Toole’s review, and that the Conservative Leader has not been contrite enough in his public comments about the election loss. Mr. Chen added that he was concerned that Mr. O’Toole’s hardline comments about China had made Chinese-Canadians feel uncomfortable.
Robert Batherson, president of the Conservative Party, said it’s important to let Mr. O’Toole’s review process take its course. He said Mr. Chen did not consult with the council before launching the petition. “We haven’t even finished counting all the ballots. So I think it’s important that we take the time to listen to MPs, listen to candidates, listen to campaign managers, grassroots,” Mr. Batherson said.
He added that the Conservative Party is a broad coalition of people with different political views. “That’s why we should have a thoughtful, measured, data- and evidence-driven process that engages the members, rather than a hot-headed online petition that has no standards as to whether we’re actually engaging grassroots members,” he said.
Two Conservative caucus sources told The Globe and Mail there is broad disappointment, among Tory MPs, in Mr. O’Toole’s election performance, which could bubble over into a leadership challenge. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources, because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal party matters.
One of the sources said that Mr. O’Toole’s senior team is reaching out to elected MPs and asking them to voice support for the Conservative Leader on social media. On Wednesday, several MPs did so, including deputy leader Candice Bergen, who expressed her gratitude for Mr. O’Toole’s leadership.
Meanwhile, the party has locked candidates and MPs out of its Constituent Information Management System (CIMS), a database that contains names of supporters and party members. Party spokesperson Cory Hann said this is “standard operating procedure after every election campaign.” But one of the caucus sources said MPs view the move as an attempt to discredit petitions against Mr. O’Toole’s leadership by making it difficult to determine whether any of the signatures belong to party members.
A source close to Mr. O’Toole’s campaign said the Conservative Leader is calling around to everyone who played a part in the election, including defeated and elected candidates, to speak about the campaign. The response, the source said, has been positive.
The source added that Mr. O’Toole supports using a different accelerated review mechanism: an existing provision in the Reform Act that would allow a review of his leadership to be triggered if 20 per cent of the Conservative caucus calls for it. The Globe is not identifying the source, because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Conservative Senator Don Plett said in an interview on Wednesday that it’s too early to draw conclusions about Mr. O’Toole’s leadership, given the expected review into the party’s handling of the election.
“Now isn’t the time to point fingers, in my opinion, until we know the things that went right and wrong,” Mr. Plett said. “When you lose, you always say you could have done better. When you win, you’re happy. I cannot tell you with any solid information that he could have done better.”
The Globe and Mail
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