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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Jan. 17.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Erin O’Toole must feel like he is on a treadmill. He’s under so much pressure from his own partisans to mix it up, to punch harder at Justin Trudeau, to stand up for conservative principles, and to make political gains.

Just about every week now, ever since he was taken to task last fall for steering clear of the public eye and questions from the press, Mr. O’Toole has held six-question news conferences. However, it rarely seems to have a driving political purpose and often ends up with defensive headlines: Mr. O’Toole won’t oppose Quebec’s Bill 21, or Mr. O’Toole defends call to accommodate the unvaccinated.

Get out there, the Conservative Party and conservative pundits urge. And then when he does, he doesn’t really go anywhere.

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It must be frustrating. Perhaps that’s why Mr. O’Toole chose to sacrifice some of his credibility to make a video of himself on a cold day on Parliament Hill, waving his arms and making false claims that Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault planned to phase out Canadian energy in the next 18 months.

On Monday, after a holiday hiatus, he was back for another six-question news conference, and out to show he was tough on China – unfortunately with a less-than-potent attack.

It was going to be a hard day to make progress with his tough-on-China stand, given that some of his own Conservative MPs had just gone public with complaints that Mr. O’Toole had failed to renew the House of Commons special committee on China out of fear that criticizing the Chinese Communist Party would hurt the Tories at the ballot box.

“Appeasement is just as bad a political strategy as it is a national policy,” Garnett Genuis, the Conservative MP who had been vice-chair of the dissolved committee, told The Globe and Mail.

It’s a remarkable thing when an MP calls his party leader a modern-day Chamberlain, and you have to guess that embarrassment might be the reason why Mr. O’Toole held a news conference to reiterate his party’s attack on Mr. Trudeau for allowing a Canadian mining company, Neo Lithium Corp., to be sold to a state-owned Chinese company.

The Conservative Leader’s point is that lithium is a critical mineral, and therefore it is a danger to Canada’s national security to let it fall into the hands of the CCP – although he did fail to mention that the company’s mine is in Argentina, not Canada.

And once again, there was Mr. O’Toole, supposedly going out to mix it up with Mr. Trudeau, but not really getting anywhere. Mostly he is defending himself from his own party.

The funny thing is the Conservative Party isn’t really in dire straits. It lost a near dead-heat election to Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, and opinion polls suggest there is still a near dead-heat now. To a political tactician, that might seem like good enough position when an election is years away. The problem is his ratings as a leader are falling, including, notably, with Conservative supporters.

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Being opposition leader is often a thankless task, and Mr. O’Toole’s is more so because he doesn’t have much of a visible constituency inside his own party. His move from “true blue” leadership candidate to moderate leader upset some of the base, and he hasn’t been able to expand the base. The base that wants him to take a hard run at Mr. Trudeau. And he often seems like a leader running in place.

In November, you could find criticisms of Mr. O’Toole’s post-election dodging of press questions in this column. But even now that he has made a habit of holding regular news conferences, albeit brief ones, it hasn’t made an impression on the most conservative parts of his party, and the most conservative pundits. They still complain Mr. O’Toole is invisible.

He was out there on Monday. He answered a few questions. He took a line of attack to Mr. Trudeau, but mostly shielding himself. He has to keep running, but he doesn’t give the impression he’s going anywhere.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that although an interview in The Narwhal at one point quoted Mr. Gulbeault referring to bringing in measures to phase out “fossil fuel” in 18 months, he made clear several times in the interview that he was speaking about phasing out “fossil fuel subsidies.”

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