Politics

Conservative senator launches petition to conduct early review of Erin O’Toole’s leadership

The petition, organized by Saskatchewan senator Denise Batters, appears to be the first serious threat to O’Toole’s leadership since the 2021 election

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OTTAWA — Arguing that Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has betrayed the party’s principles and can’t win the next election, a Conservative senator has launched a petition to have the party’s membership vote on O’Toole’s leadership by no later than June 2022.

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The petition, organized by Saskatchewan senator Denise Batters, appears to be the first serious threat to O’Toole’s leadership since the 2021 election concluded. However, it’s also likely to be opposed by many others in the party, including Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner who has already slammed it as a gift to the Liberals.

O’Toole has argued he successfully prevented the Liberals from cruising to a majority win in last election, but many in the party are bitterly disappointed that the Conservatives fell from 121 seats to 119 and were largely wiped out in Canada’s major cities. O’Toole has also created sharp divisions in the party by shifting the Conservatives to a more moderate, centrist stance since becoming leader, despite running on a very right-wing leadership platform.

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Batters says she launched the petition with support from other unnamed party members because “we don’t want to see this party ripped apart again.”

“When we’re divided, the Liberals win,” Batters said in video. “Under Erin O’Toole’s leadership, the rift in our party is growing.”

On the website hosting the petition , a statement says O’Toole “has reversed his own positions from his leadership campaign, betrayed Conservative principles, lost seats in the election, and cannot win the next election.”

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The petition is aimed at triggering a referendum vote under the Conservative Party constitution, meaning it needs 5 per cent of party members in at least five provinces to sign on.

According to the party’s constitution, the National Council “is responsible for conducting a referendum by secret ballot within one hundred and twenty days of receiving the results of a valid petition to conduct the referendum.”

The constitution says “the results of a referendum shall be binding if at least one third of the membership cast ballots, and the majorities required by this Article have
been achieved…To be carried, a resolution must receive two-thirds of the votes cast, and a majority of votes cast in each of a majority of individual provinces.”

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On Monday afternoon, Rempel Garner used her Twitter account to fire back at Batters’ petition, telling her that “the Liberals are popping champagne and toasting to you right now.”

“I’m so profoundly disappointed in this,” Rempel Garner said. “Every Canadian will be focused on this for the next month instead of anything we do in the House. I ask my colleague to withdrawal this petition, have it out in caucus instead, and for the good of Canada let us MPs get back to work.”

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Alain Rayes, who was recently named the party’s Quebec lieutenant, tweeted that if Batters’ goal “is to replace Justin Trudeau with a Conservative government, looking ahead is the way to do it. As a team. All together and united behind [O’Toole.]”

O’Toole’s office has not yet commented on the petition.

Batters was a vocal supporter of O’Toole’s rival Peter MacKay during the leadership race, and is also a strong supporter of former leader Andrew Scheer. She was appointed to the Senate in 2013 by then prime minister Stephen Harper.

“O’Toole won the leadership race claiming to be a ‘true blue’ Conservative, but ran an election campaign nearly indistinguishable from Trudeau’s Liberals,” the petition website says. “Conservatives and Canadians can’t afford more of the same…. As leader, O’Toole has watered down and even entirely reversed policy positions without the input of party or caucus members. On the carbon tax, on firearms, on conscience rights – he has contradicted positions within the same week, the same day, and even within the same sentence!”

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It also says that O’Toole “has not learned any lessons from this devastating loss.”

“He is surrounded by the same old team with the same old ideas,” it says. “His polling numbers keep dropping. His flip-flops and weakness mean that he can never regain the trust from the Canadian people that he lost in the election. Because he refuses to learn from his mistakes, he can’t win.”

O’Toole is currently not scheduled to face a leadership review until the party’s next annual convention, set to take place in the spring of 2023.

The Conservative caucus also voted after the election to invoke a power under the Reform Act that could allow the party’s 119 MPs to hold their own vote on O’Toole’s leadership. However, many Conservative MPs believe the power to review the leadership is properly held by the party’s members, not by its MPs.

More to come.

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