Conservative MPs oust Erin O’Toole; MP Candice Bergen steps in as interim leader

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives plunged back into a period of political uncertainty Wednesday, with MPs firing Erin O’Toole as their party leader in a move that many insisted was actually a show of unity.

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This article was published 02/02/2022 (308 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives plunged back into a period of political uncertainty Wednesday, with MPs firing Erin O’Toole as their party leader in a move that many insisted was actually a show of unity.

Many Conservative MPs reported a sense of relief at the decision to cut ties with O’Toole and put an end to what insiders described as a toxic political environment that was fatal to their hopes of ever forming a government.

Even those who have long supported O’Toole said they were glad the fight now seemed to be over.

“We need to get on the same page,” said Eric Duncan (Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry), who had been a key member of O’Toole’s inner circle.

“We need to move in the same direction and I’m very confident there is a strong willingness to do that.”

Seventy-three of 119 Conservative MPs voted to remove O’Toole as leader, while just 45 voted for him to remain. The only MP who did not vote was caucus chair Scott Reid.

In his parting remarks, O’Toole called the chance to lead the party an honour, and said he would continue as the member of Parliament for Durham, saying there is no bad seat in the House of Commons.

But he urged his fellow Conservatives — and all politicians — to keep a careful eye on what is happening across the country.

“Hear the other side. Listen to all voices, not just the echoes from your own tribe,” he said on Facebook Live.

“Realize that our country is divided and people are worried. Work together because how we as leaders act now will define the next generation.”

A failure to listen to the feedback from his own MPs and grassroots was among the criticisms levelled at O’Toole in recent weeks as momentum grew for the vote to remove him as leader.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

On the eve of the vote, O’Toole had framed the question as a choice between taking the party backward with anger or moving forward with optimism.

Some Conservative MPs rejected that characterization on Wednesday, and also that the vote was a repudiation of O’Toole’s efforts to take the party in a more centrist direction.

Disagreement in caucus is natural and healthy, said Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan).

“There are many significant, challenging and complex issues facing this country,” Genuis said, “and I remain extremely optimistic about the future the Conservative party.”

Many MPs said what the party needs is a sense of purpose and direction, and the hope now was that they could all work together toward that goal.

Gesturing to the convoy of truckers blasting their horns on the road in front of Parliament Hill, Raquel Dancho (Kildonan—St. Paul) said it is clear the pandemic is taking its toll on all Canadians.

Leadership is needed to address that, Dancho said.

“I hope that we can have both an interim leader and elect a long-term leader that inspires Canadians and brings conservatives together and presents a real strong alternative to the Liberal party and that we can defeat them in the next election,” she said.

“Hear the other side. Listen to all voices, not just the echoes from your own tribe.”–Erin O’Toole

For his part, O’Toole said what he thinks the country deserves in a Conservative party is balance, ideas and inspiration.

“Conservatism is about a vision of the country that makes us exceptional,” he said.

“It feeds the soul. It causes us to aspire to be better for our country, for our communities, for our families and neighbours and for our role as a leader on the world stage. But it is just dreaming without the lever of power that comes with inspiring the country and earning the trust of its people.”

O’Toole formally resigned as leader of the party later Wednesday, and party president Rob Batherson said the process and timeline for electing his official replacement would be discussed soon.

Late Wednesday night, Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar) was elected interim leader of the party, the second woman to hold the job. She had served as deputy party leader under O’Toole, and has been an MP since 2008.

The contest to select the next permanent leader will be the third leadership race for the party since Stephen Harper resigned following the Conservatives’ election loss in 2015.

On the early list of potential contenders are longtime Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre and former leadership hopeful and rookie MP Leslyn Lewis.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the culmination of more than a year of infighting among Conservatives over O’Toole’s leadership and the future of the party.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks during a media availability in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

While he was elected as a right-leaning, “true blue” Conservative, he quickly sought to push the party closer to the centre of the political spectrum.

His methods — which included surprise motions and policy announcements — grated on Conservative MPs, as did his muddled messaging on policies during and after the election.

Challenges to his leadership, however, took off in earnest after the failure to defeat the governing Liberals in 2021, thanks to what many believed were a series of strategic missteps that O’Toole never did enough to correct.

The Conservative party’s constitution stipulates that a leader who loses an election must face the membership in a leadership review at the party’s next convention. That is scheduled for 2023 — and for many party members, that wasn’t soon enough.

That included Conservative MPs, who voted in favour of implementing legislation that gives them a direct say in the matter. The Reform Act lets MPs take on the authority to initiate a leadership review if 20 per cent of the caucus members request one.

A letter to that effect had been drafted in the fall, and the final signatures required — and then some — to trigger the review were gathered in the wake of a caucus meeting last week that largely focused on the party’s election post mortem.

That report placed blame for the election loss on a number of factors but, in the eyes of some, not enough on O’Toole’s own performance.

An aggravating factor, several MPs told the Star, was that O’Toole came to the meeting with no obvious plan for changes he was going to make as a result of the review, or even any sign of a strategy for the coming parliamentary session.

“Democracy is a messy, messy way to do work, and that’s OK.”–Dr. Stephen Ellis

MPs told the Star that many of them had simply lost patience with him.

“We still have a job to do, and it’s time to just move on and do it,” said one MP, granted anonymity to freely discuss internal caucus deliberations.

O’Toole’s team had got wind of the efforts to get signatures on the letter, and tried to mount a counter offensive over the weekend, calling MPs to ask for them to pledge their loyalty.

O’Toole himself was on the phone for hours on Monday and Tuesday, pleading with MPs to give him another shot, promising everything from a speedier leadership review by members to a new approach on carbon pricing and policy, and even finding policies that would allow those against abortion to feel some action was being taken on their concerns.

He made the same pitch to MPs on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to save his leadership, suggesting only he could modernize the party and the movement in a way that would lead them to government.

But to many in caucus, those pleas came too late. They also came on the heels of a statement issued late Monday, in which O’Toole painted his naysayers as people who wanted to take the party to a deep and angry place, and who would destroy the conservative movement.

MPs told the Star that statement amounted to the final nail in his coffin

“It pushed people right over the edge,” one told the Star.

Justin Tang - THE CANADIAN PRESS Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks during a media availability in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Jan. 27, 2022.

“He was pointing fingers at all these other people and it’s his lack of leadership that is the problem.”

Repairing the rift in caucus will require O’Toole’s successor to have a steady hand, said Dr. Stephen Ellis (Cumberland—Colchester).

“It’s difficult to see, of course, but you know what? It’s still an exciting time,” Ellis said. ”That’s what democracy is.

“Democracy is a messy, messy way to do work, and that’s OK.”

Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz

Possible replacements for Erin O’Toole

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole has been voted out as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. A look at some potential contenders to replace him:

Pierre Poilievre — The Ottawa-area MP and finance critic is regarded as a front-runner and a favourite among the grassroots. He considered running in the 2020 leadership race, but ultimately said it would take away from time with his young family.

Leslyn Lewis — The newly elected MP from Ontario placed third in the last leadership race. She entered as a relative unknown and became the top pick among many social conservatives and party members from Western Canada

Marilyn Gladu — The MP from southwestern Ontario told reporters Wednesday she’s considering another run at the leadership. Gladu entered the 2020 race but failed to meet the party’s criteria. In recent months, she’s become a vocal critic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Rona Ambrose — A cabinet minister in the Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper who became interim leader after he lost the 2015 election. In 2020, Ambrose, who hails from Western Canada, decided against vying for the leadership despite the desire of many members to see her run.

Patrick Brown — The mayor of Brampton, Ont., said before Wednesday’s vote that “his only focus right now is getting Brampton reopened.” However, some Tories are still looking to him, given his political roots in the region as not only a local politician but as former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. The federal Conservatives are conscious of the need to pick up votes in the Greater Toronto Area.

— The Canadian Press

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