Erin O’Toole says he has no problem with Tory MPs from Saskatchewan confirming Senator Denise Batters as a member of their provincial Conservative caucus, even though Mr. O’Toole previously removed Ms. Batters from the national caucus after she publicly challenged his leadership of the party.
“I don’t really mind,” Mr. O’Toole told a Monday news conference on Parliament Hill, when asked about the issue.
He noted that there are various Conservative caucuses beyond the national caucus. “Parliamentarians are free to do whatever they want in other meetings, and advocate for things,” he said.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that the regional caucus had decided to confirm Ms. Batters as a member.
The Tories hold all 14 of Saskatchewan’s federal seats. The province’s MPs include former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer; Robert Kitchen, who is chair of the standing committee on government operations and estimates; and Randy Hoback, the chair of the standing committee on international trade.
Ms. Batters, the only Conservative senator from Saskatchewan, was a close adviser to Mr. Scheer when he was leader.
She has been a member of the Senate since 2013. Mr. O’Toole kicked her out of the Conservative national caucus in November after she launched a petition that called for an early review of his leadership. The petition had more than 7,600 signatures as of Jan. 18, according to its website.
In a video posted online when she launched the petition, Ms. Batters directly challenged Mr. O’Toole’s leadership. She accused him of watering down and entirely reversing policy positions without input from the party or caucus.
Although Ms. Batters was removed from the national caucus, which includes Conservative MPs and senators, she remained a member of the Conservative caucus in the Senate.
In the months after the fall federal election, there have been signs among some Conservative MPs of tension over Mr. O’Toole’s leadership. The Tories returned to Ottawa with slightly fewer seats and a slightly lower share of the popular vote than the party earned in the 2019 election under Mr. Scheer.
Conservative MPs are scheduled to attend a caucus retreat this week, where former Edmonton Centre MP James Cumming is expected to present a report on the party’s 2021 campaign.
On Monday, Mr. Cumming said in an exchange of messages with The Globe that work on the report included contact with 400 people through a mix of one-on-one interviews, group interviews and written submissions. He said he will present the report on Thursday.
“The purpose of the review was to evaluate what went right and what went wrong and make recommendations that will facilitate continuous improvement into the future,” Mr. Cumming said.
Also on Monday, Mr. O’Toole faced a series of questions from reporters about whether he will meet with members of a convoy of truckers headed for Ottawa to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which both Canada and the United States have adopted for drivers who deliver goods across the border.
Several Conservative MPs have recently expressed support for the protest. “Thank you Truckers! Trudeau is attacking personal liberty and threatening everyone’s ability to get groceries because of his overreach on vaccine mandates,” Mr. Scheer tweeted. “He is the biggest threat to freedom in Canada.”
Alberta MP Martin Shields tweeted: “I am in Ottawa awaiting the trucking convoy on its way to the capital. Canadian supply chains are critical and the Trudeau Liberal government’s mandates and freedom-curbing restrictions have gone on too long. It’s time to get our freedoms back.”
Asked if he supported the convoy’s goals and whether he would speak with the protesters, Mr. O’Toole said he has met with the Canadian Truckers Alliance, an association that represents truck drivers across Canada. The alliance has denounced the anti-mandate protests.
Mr. O’Toole said his caucus had seen supply chain problems coming for months.
He added that he supports getting as many people vaccinated as possible, including truckers. “Probably with the exception of a few doctors who are on TV everyday, I probably encouraged vaccination more than any Canadian,” he said.
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