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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole arrives to a Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa on Nov. 17.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The odds are against Erin O’Toole being ousted as Conservative Leader, because there is neither a person nor an idea available to replace him. Nonetheless, he needs to take the insurrection within his party seriously. As Leader, he is not performing well.

Parliament returns this week with as much attention focused on the Conservatives as on the governing Liberals. Are there any unvaxxed Tory MPs out there? Is anyone else willing to join Senator Denise Batters in open rebellion?

Not good.

Usually, when there is a move afoot to eject a leader, their replacement is either leading the insurrection or waiting to see if it succeeds. Brian Mulroney manoeuvring to unseat Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark in the 1980s; Paul Martin forcing Jean Chrétien out as Liberal prime minister two decades ago; Michael Ignatieff ready to replace Stéphane Dion as Liberal leader in 2008.

But no one is available to replace Mr. O’Toole. Finance critic Pierre Poilievre might or might not run if there is a leadership race, but he turned down an opportunity to run in 2020 because of family commitments. Those commitments remain. In any case, he is not behind the effort to bring down Mr. O’Toole.

Senior figures from the Stephen Harper years – former cabinet ministers John Baird and James Moore; former interim leader Rona Ambrose – don’t appear to want the job.

Haldimand-Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis is attractive to the socially conservative wing of the party, but she is unilingual, which makes her unelectable as prime minister, and her opposition to vaccine mandates is only slightly less politically suicidal than – oh, I don’t know, opposing abortion rights, perhaps. If she led the Conservative Party into the next election, the NDP would become the Official Opposition.

Not only is there no obvious person available to replace Mr. O’Toole, there is no obvious idea, either, no stream of political thought that Mr. O’Toole rejects but that could take the party to victory.

Economic conservatives are angry with Mr. O’Toole because he abandoned the traditional conservative commitment to cutting taxes and spending, while balancing the budget. Social conservatives are angry with Mr. O’Toole for backtracking on his commitment to loosen gun controls and for supporting, however reluctantly, vaccine mandates for MPs.

But while deficits have reached frightening levels, austerity in these final months of the pandemic would do more harm than good. And to champion the rights of gun owners and vaccine refuseniks is to champion lost and unpopular causes.

As Darrell Bricker, chief executive officer of Ipsos Public Affairs, put it: “It’s not about moving to the left or moving to the right. It’s about moving to the suburbs.”

Mr. O’Toole designed a platform that tried to appeal to suburban voters, who make up more than two-thirds of the population. He lost because two elements of that platform – lifting the ban on certain weapons and not mandating vaccines for many occupations and situations – were unpopular with suburban voters. Simple as that.

Mr. O’Toole is criticized for being weak and inauthentic – a political chameleon who changes his spots to suit his audience, a leader who can neither convince his caucus and party to follow him nor suppress the inevitable dissent. This criticism is fair.

The answer to that criticism is for Mr. O’Toole to hold himself to account for failures in the campaign, show that he’s learned his lesson, and that he has a credible plan to do better next time. Beyond that he must push the dissidents within caucus to put up or shut up. Most of them will probably shut up, rather than face expulsion.

The most important quality in a leader is the ability to learn. Mr. O’Toole has made his fair share of mistakes since becoming Leader. Has he learned from those mistakes?

Will he do a better job of respecting and managing his caucus, or will he vacillate between coercion and capitulation? Will he succeed in describing a principled yet flexible conservatism that can attract a broad coalition of voters, or will he be pulled this way and that by factions and polls?

The next election is years away. The Conservatives have plenty of time to prepare. But they need the best possible leader, a true prime minister in waiting. Mr. O’Toole may be that leader. But he needs to grow.

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