Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole faces a caucus revolt, with 35 MPs signing a letter calling for a leadership-review vote over concerns about the direction of the Official Opposition party.
The letter, sent to caucus chair Scott Reid on Monday, would require a leadership-review vote by Conservative MPs as early as Wednesday’s regular caucus meeting. If more than 50 per cent of caucus voted against him, Mr. O’Toole would have to step down immediately.
MPs would then have to elect an interim caucus leader while the Conservative Party calls a leadership race. Two sources said at least 63 of the elected 119 Conservative MPs are willing to vote against Mr. O’Toole.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the eight sources for this story, because they were not authorized to discuss internal party matters.
In a statement issued late Monday night, Mr. O’Toole said he welcomed the vote.
“I’m not going anywhere and I’m not turning back. Canada needs us to be united and serious,” he said in a post on Facebook. “It’s time for a reckoning. To settle this in caucus. Right here. Right now. Once and for all.”
A source close to Mr. O’Toole said the push to get rid of him is being led by MPs who are angry that Mr. O’Toole decided the party would support the Liberals’ ban on conversion therapy. The government tabled the bill for a third time in the fall, after a previous one died on the Senate floor when the summer election was called.
The 2013 Reform Act, sponsored by Conservative MP Michael Chong and passed by Parliament, forces any party that adopts it to review its leadership if a written notice signed by at least 20 per cent of caucus members is submitted to the caucus chair.
Internal discussions took place over the weekend within Conservative ranks on whether to trigger a caucus leadership vote, the eight sources say.
The discussions intensified after Mr. O’Toole’s office learned that dissidents were attempting to gather a minimum of 24 MPs to force a leadership vote, according to six sources.
Conservative Party Deputy Whip James Bezan made calls on Sunday and Monday to dissident MPs, warning of repercussions if they tried to oust Mr. O’Toole, the sources said. Mr. Bezan did not immediately respond to The Globe for comment.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said she supports Mr. O’Toole and deplored her colleagues for sowing dissension within the ranks when Canadians are looking for a sensible alternative to the ruling Trudeau Liberals.
“Right now our party needs to be a strong, united voice of opposition. Going through a leadership race when a vote is already scheduled is counterproductive,” she said.
Ms. Rempel Garner said grassroots Conservative should decide who should be leader rather than the caucus. She expressed optimism that fellow MPs will defeat the dissidents on Wednesday.
“I speak on behalf of dozens of members of my caucus who are deeply tired and angry about this, frustrated that their voices aren’t getting through on issues that matter to constituents because story after story after story is about internal infighting … so I choice to work and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”
Another Alberta MP, Garnett Genuis said in a post on Twitter that he signed the letter calling for an early leadership review but he didn’t organize it.
He said about one third of the party’s caucus, representing a “broad cross-section,” had signed the letter “calling for an end to Erin O’Toole’s leadership.”
“Mr. O’Toole should recognize that his position is untenable, rather than using lies to publicly attack members of his own team,” Mr. Genuis said.
Late Monday, Conservative MP Bob Benzen expressed support for a caucus leadership review, saying Mr. O’Toole has flip-flopped on numerous issues, citing the support for a carbon tax, refusal to challenge Quebec’s new law to beef up the French Language Charter and failure to stand up for Charter rights during the pandemic.
“I believe the Conservative caucus has given Mr. O’Toole more than enough chances for a course correction to resolve the concerns of many grassroots members of the party,” the Calgary MP tweeted. “In consideration of Mr. O’Toole’s record as leader, I believe a caucus leadership review is the only way to avoid a dangerous split in the Conservative Party that may not be repairable.”
A source in Mr. O’Toole’s office said the leader had been advised to trigger the vote as early as Wednesday’s caucus meeting to end the internal dissension. His office was unaware of the letter signed by the 35 MPs.
James Cumming, a former Edmonton MP who wrote a postelection report for Mr. O’Toole, had told the embattled leader to have a secret ballot caucus vote to end the internal sniping, two sources said. At the moment, Mr. O’Toole is not required to face a leadership review until the Conservative Party’s national convention in August, 2023.
Mr. Cumming would not comment when contacted by The Globe on Monday. But the two sources said Mr. Cumming told Mr. O’Toole a caucus vote was a legitimate tool and would demonstrate he has majority support of MPs.
Mr. O’Toole cannot order a leadership vote. He would need 24 or more MPs to say in writing that they want one. However, he can persuade loyalist members to request one, according to an MP who favours such an action.
One dissident MP said the anti-O’Toole faction would favour a clear vote one way or the other.
A senior Conservative MP who supports Mr. O’Toole said the leader needs the support of caucus to function. The MP said most of the 119 elected MPs support Mr. O’Toole.
Mr. Cumming’s internal review of the Conservatives’ 2021 election campaign found that Mr. O’Toole came across as over-coached and needed to be more assertive. The report also urged the party to review its team of senior advisers, reduce infighting and do a better job of reaching out to racialized communities.
Mr. Cumming’s report also recommends the party improve its election readiness by modernizing its voter identification and contact practices, and change its nomination rules.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attacked Mr. O’Toole on Monday because some of his MPs – including some critics of his leadership – voiced support for the anti-vaccination protest on Parliament Hill, where some demonstrators waved Nazi and confederate flags and danced on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As a sign of Mr. O’Toole’s weakened leadership, Tory MPs from Saskatchewan recently decided to confirm Senator Denise Batters as a member of their regional caucus, even though Mr. O’Toole kicked her out of the national caucus in November for launching a petition that challenged his leadership.
Ms. Batters has been promoting online a Nanos poll showing respondents favoured Conservative Finance critic Pierre Poilievre as leader over Mr. O’Toole.
Last Thursday, the party’s Nipissing-Timiskaming riding association became the fourth to call for a leadership review before this summer, rather than in 2023.
With a report from Ian Bailey
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