Senator Dennis Patterson is quitting the Conservative Senate caucus over the party’s support for protesters opposed to vaccination mandates who have filled the streets of downtown Ottawa, creating a crisis in the nation’s capital.
Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, the opposition critic for public services and procurement, also questioned the party’s approach, drawing attention in a tweet to “undergoing the Siege of Ottawa,” and calling for the removal of protesters.
The Conservative Party’s new interim leader, Candice Bergen, advocated this week in internal discussions against asking the protesters to go home, according to an e-mail to obtained by The Globe and Mail. On Wednesday, the Tory caucus voted Erin O’Toole out, after months of tensions.
In her first major move as leader, Ms. Bergen on Friday replaced the Conservatives’ parliamentary leadership team without including a francophone member.
Veteran Quebec MP Gérard Deltell has been replaced by Ontario MP John Brassard as house leader. Ms. Bergen also named Alberta MP Tom Kmiec as deputy house leader, Alberta MP Blaine Calkins as chief opposition whip, and Ontario MP Lianne Rood as deputy whip. All are known to be social conservatives. They replace Mr. Deltell, Blake Richards, Michael Barrett and James Bezan.
Mr. Patterson, a Nunavut politician appointed to the Senate in 2009 on the recommendation of prime minister Stephen Harper, said he will retain his decades-old membership in the Conservative Party, but join the Canadian senators group.
I spent the week undergoing the Siege of Ottawa. If the motivation of truckers could be understood, the current situation is quite different. I ask that we clear the streets and that we stop this occupation controlled by radicals and anarchist groups. #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/OU0DwyviWY— Pierre Paul-Hus (@PierrePaulHus) February 4, 2022
“I absolutely was appalled that members of our caucus, that even our new leadership, [were] associating themselves in any way with the racist, hateful, misogynist, white supremacist hooligans in the so-called Freedom Convoy,” Mr. Patterson said in an interview.
Some of the people protesting against pandemic restrictions and mask and vaccination mandates have carried flags with swastikas, as well as Confederate flags. Members of the public have reported harassment.
“That was what motivated me to finally take this step of realizing these caucuses no longer represent the party that I know,” Mr. Patterson said of the Conservative Senate and national caucuses.
Mr. Patterson said he has been dismayed that Conservative leaders did not strongly condemn the “continued lawless occupation of the Ottawa downtown core,” which he said is uncharacteristic of a party he has always seen as supporting law and order.
In the e-mail about the protesters to Mr. O’Toole’s senior caucus team on Monday, Ms. Bergen wrote: “I don’t think we should be asking them to go home.
“I understand the mood may shift soon. So we need to turn this into the PM’s problem.”
Ms. Bergen has, in the House of Commons, described the protesters as “passionate, patriotic and peaceful,” and posted photos on social media of her meeting with some of them, saying they deserve to be heard.
Ms. Bergen’s office did not respond to a request for comment. However, in a statement she urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to provide a clear path to end the situation in Ottawa. She also urged the protesters to “remain peaceful” and call out and denounce acts of hate, racism, intolerance or violence.
Other Tory MPs have also supported the protesters.
Asked about this approach, Mr. Patterson said: “I am not at all comfortable, and that’s why I know this is no longer a caucus I want to belong to, and I think the right thing to do, instead of putting my head down, is to speak.”
The Senator, who said he admired Mr. O’Toole’s leadership approach, added that he hopes a new permanent leader to be elected later this year will return the party to a more centrist position with broad appeal.
He said he is “happily, publicly, triple-vaccinated,” and has supported the work the territorial government in Nunavut has done with the federal government during the pandemic. “Vaccine mandates and lockdowns have worked in Nunavut at avoiding making a bad situation much, much worse,” he said. “I don’t welcome lockdowns, but I think they are a necessary tool.”
Mr. Paul-Hus, MP for Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles also raised concerns on Friday. “I ask that we clear the streets and that we stop this occupation controlled by radicals and anarchist groups,” he wrote in a tweet that featured a photo of downtown Wellington Street packed with trucks parked there by protesters.
He did not respond to a request for comment.
Ontario Conservative MP Dean Allison said on social media that he respects and values Mr. Paul-Hus as a colleague, “but on this issue, I would have to strongly disagree with him.” He did not elaborate.
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