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Erin O’Toole to face leadership review by caucus as 1/3 want him gone, says MP

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole will face a vote on his leadership with one former caucus supporter now saying more than one-third of them want him gone.
Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole speaks about climate change during an announcement at an event in Ottawa, Thursday April 15, 2021. A Conservative riding association has launched a petition against leader Erin O’Toole’s decision to introduce a carbon tax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole will face a vote on his leadership with one former caucus supporter now saying more than one-third of them want him gone.

The Canadian Press has confirmed that Ontario MP Scott Reid, chair of the party’s caucus, has informed MPs that he received written notice with signatures from at least 20 per cent of members requesting a review of O’Toole’s leadership.

The process MPs are following is outlined in the Reform Act, which gives a party’s caucus the ability to trigger a leadership review.

After last year’s election loss, the Conservative caucus gave itself the power to vote on O’Toole’s leadership — a measure the leader described as a welcome exercise in accountability.

In his correspondence to MPs Monday, Reid says the notice he received was valid and more details would follow on when a leadership vote would happen.

The Conservative caucus is next set to meet Wednesday. A vote on the leadership of O’Toole, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, would need to happen by secret ballot.

Alberta MP Garnett Genuis, who serves as O’Toole’s critic for international development, took to social media Monday evening to say he was among signatories calling for an early leadership review.

He said that about one-third of the Tories’ 119-member caucus “signed a letter calling for an end to Erin O’Toole’s leadership, representing a broad cross-section of opinion.”

After last year’s election loss, Genuis came to O’Toole’s side by urging Conservatives not to plunge themselves into another leadership contest and unite behind the leader.

But that is no longer the case.

On Monday evening, Genuis took to social media saying he wasn’t planning to comment about the leadership process, but felt compelled to do so after what he calls attempts by O’Toole’s office to “smear” him by telling reporters he was spearheading the effort because he was unhappy about O’Toole’s decision to fast-track a government bill banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ Canadians.

The MP, who hails from the social conservative wing of the party, had been vocal opponent of an earlier version of the legislation in Parliament’s last sitting before last year’s election.

“This is the kind of division that is tearing at our party and it must come to an end. We need leadership that unites instead of divides.”

The drama that unfolded Monday has been the culmination of weeks of tension and frustration brewing behind the scenes with O’Toole, who won the leadership in August 2020.

In an earlier statement on social media, Alberta MP Bob Benzen, who supported O’Toole in the 2017 and 2020 leadership contests, said the leader has flip-flopped multiple timeson party policy and believes it’s time for caucus to review his fate.

“I feel that the Conservative caucus has given Mr. O’Toole more than enough chances for a course correction to resolve the concerns of many of the grassroots members of our party,” his statement reads.

“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.”

Trouble has been stirring for O’Toole since last year’s election loss. The calls from within caucus to put his leadership to the test follows last week’s two-day caucus retreat where MPs were presented with the findings of a review into what went wrong in the campaign.

Even before that, O’Toole had been facing pressure from some in his caucus to adopt a tougher stand against a controversial secularism law in Quebec. Some from the social conservative faction of the party also expressed concerns with last fall’s vote on banning conversion therapy.

Even before the election there were grumblings. In an effort to broaden support for the Tories and modernize the party, he embraced a carbon pricing system after promising to repeal the Liberal government’s carbon tax.

Earlier Monday, the party’s electoral district association for Battlefords-Lloydminster in rural Saskatchewan announced it was launching a petition it plans to present to the Conservatives’ national council.

“Make no mistake, it’s just the O’Toole carbon tax, but by another name,” district president Michael Hudec said in a statement.

“O’Toole’s carbon tax will make everything more expensive for everyone, and is the exact opposite of what our members voted for at our most recent democratic policy convention.”

Hudec said O’Toole violated that policy last April when he revealed the party’s climate change plan included a carbon pricing system that would see the money consumers pay be entered into a proposed “personal low carbon savings account,” which they could then spend on items to help them live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

In a statement of her own, the riding’s MP, Rosemarie Falk, said she supported the petition.

Calls for O’Toole’s leadership to be reviewed early had been coming from the grassroots for several months. In recent weeks, at least three riding associations, have requested the party’s national council hold an leadership review by mid-June instead of waiting until 2023 when the next national convention is scheduled.

Last year, O’Toole kicked Conservative Sen. Denise Batters out of his national caucus for launching a petition for members to sign to force the party to review his leadership this year.

Although he removed her from national caucus, the Tory Senate caucus as well as the Saskatchewan regional caucus decided to keep her in the fold, suggesting they defied the leader.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press