When the dust settled and the caucus votes were counted, 73 MPs from the Conservative Party of Canada voted to oust their leaderErin O’Toole.
After weeks of speculation about if or when it would happen, the vote turned out to be a swift and decisive repudiation. However, the exact reason for the rejection will be the subject of debate both inside and outside the party as it moves to select its third leader in less than five years.
To some, the vote will be seen as a rejection of O’Toole’s very public attempts to shift the party towards a more moderate stance on a variety of issuesin an attempt to widen the pool of potential voters.
It is not the ‘Liberal Lite’ party
For those critics, the party must stop trying to be a version of “Liberal Elite”” and plant their flag firmly on issues supported by the party’s most ardent and typically right-wing supporters.
Such measures include Relaxation of restrictions related to the pandemic., reject a carbon tax, uphold conservative social values, and more.
To others, including many who agreed with O’Toole’s conclusion that the party had to moderate to win back the urban supporters it had lost to the Liberals, the vote may seem more like a rejection of the irregular style in which O’Toole tried to remake the party.
After conquering the leadership with a campaign based on the commitment to the “true blue” valuesO’Toole began to veer to center with his comments.
It was reminiscent of the American Republican presidential candidates, as John McCain and Mitt Romney, moderating his positions during the general elections after winning the support of his right-wing base in the primaries. But while such activity is the norm in the United States for both Republicans and Democrats, it struck many in Canada as insincere.
At the center of criticism from most Conservative Party supporters, however, is the party’s performance in the September 2021 federal election. In the space of a five-week election campaign, O’Toole updated and reversed positions repeatedly.
Most of the changes were meant to further tone down the match, such as when he suggested the liberal carbon tax could persist under a Conservative Party governmentor when the course reversed on a conservative platform promise to end the ban on some assault-style weapons.
The strategy was clear: win over disgruntled Conservative supporters who had migrated to the Liberals in the hope of clinging to as much of the party’s far right as possible.
For the first two weeks of the campaign, the strategy appeared to be working, as the Conservatives erased the Liberals’ pre-election lead. During the first week of September, O’Toole seemed to move on. An enthusiastic pollster he described O’Toole as a “political freight train”.
However, that momentum eventually stalled, even as policy changes increased in frequency. In the end, even though the CCP once again won the popular vote, it finished a distant second behind Liberals in seats like Justin Trudeau. returned to power with a minority government.
Accused of flip-flopping
To party critics, the turnaround throughout O’Toole’s leadership created the impression of a leader willing to say and do anything to get elected. As one caucus member described it, reversals were the “elephant in the room” and should have been a focus of the party’s official post-mortem report.
At the same time, O’Toole’s attempts to expand the tent and move the party to the center alienated many in the more conservative wing of the party. A lot of the loudest and most public post-election criticism of O’Toole’s leadership, in fact, came from conservative social groups.
Ironically, in the months after the election, O’Toole had to make additional course corrections to appease his opponents within the party.
After initially agreeing to the COVID-19 containment measures, he subsequently felt compelled to voice your opposition to a vaccine mandate for MPs entering the House of Commons.
As the Omicron variant traversed provinces across the country, O’Toole exemptions supported for the unvaccinated although the polls continue to suggest most Canadians were less tolerant of those who would not take a puncture.
a divided party
While the party was united enough to oust O’Toole, it is not clear what else its members can agree on. In his parting words, O’Toole issued a warning that the country was facing a terrible moment of division. Today, however, it is the party he led that is bitterly divided.
Candice Bergen, a right-wing member of the party, has been named caretaker leader in a possible sign of where the Conservative caucus is headed.
Throughout his time as leader, O’Toole continually tried to ride two horses going in different directions. No leader, no matter how expert, can appear indefinitely elegant doing that. The endless changes that were a hallmark of his leadership were the inevitable result.
Whoever succeeds him on paper will have to deal with those same divisions and face the same choice.
The leadership race will no doubt feature would-be successors planting flags on either side of the party’s dividing line, but when the dust settles once again, the next Conservative leader will face the same unsavory choices, and the same seemingly insurmountable divide.