Erin O’Toole is toast – it’s only a matter of time

Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole emerged for his first post-election one-on-one interview on TVO last Wednesday

O’Toole managed to deflect questions surrounding his leadership. And he did his best to let party faithful who may have been watching know that “True Blue” Erin O’Toole is back. That would be the guy who won the Conservative party leadership promising to “Take Back Canada” to the 1950s. And not the flip-flopper who campaigned as a centrist during the election.

But the issue of mandatory vaccines for MPs is now driving a wedge right through his caucus and messing with O’Toole’s plans to look in charge. 

Barely 24 hours after he told TVO’s Steve Paikin that he would respect the all-party Board of Internal Economy’s (BOIE) decision to require all MPs returning to Parliament Hill to be vaccinated, O’Toole pulled an about-face saying through a spokesperson the decision “infringes” on MPs’ rights. Conservative party whip Blake Richards also disagreed publicly with the board’s decision.

Contrary to O’Toole’s suggestion during the campaign, it appears that more than just a handful of Conservative MPs have yet to be vaxxed. Clearly, it’s why O’Toole reversed himself.  

It also appears O’Toole’s hold on the party may be shakier than party insiders are letting on. In fact, his leadership may be imploding right before our eyes.  

Indeed, Leslyn Lewis, one of his key leadership rivals, took to Twitter on Friday to throw a grenade into O’Toole’s lap after news from the feds that Pfizer will be providing millions of vaccine doses for children ages 5-11 beginning later this fall. Lewis questioned the safety of the vaccines “without long-term data” and said kids are being “used as shields for adults… when the treatment neither prevents transmitting or getting the virus.” 

Stockwell Day (yes, that Stockwell Day) tweeted his support asking if anyone in the “white male power structure” would come out publicly to back Lewis. Was Day talking about the Conservative caucus or the BOIE? 

Lewis wasn’t finished, framing the BOIE’s vaccine directive as “an attempt to lynch me into silence.” She also compared herself to civil rights icon Rosa Parks. “The media and the power structure expect me to sit in the back of the bus. I won’t!”

Lewis’s position on mandatory vaccines may have more to do with the fact she’s an Evangelical Christian than the conspiracy theories entertained by some in the Conservative caucus.

Still, her very vocal opposition signals a caucus revolt in the making. 

How many more MPs will follow as the return to Parliament draws closer? How many is too many until questions about O’Toole’s leadership become too loud to ignore? If O’Toole can’t bring his caucus to heel on this, then what hope is there for his continued leadership? 

For the record, Lewis is also opposed to funding abortion services and a ban on conversion therapy. Where does O’Toole draw the line?

Social conservatives in the party were already calling for O’Toole’s ouster after the campaign over his equivocation on abortion. The party is now undertaking a review to determine what went wrong in the election – in particular, why it was resoundingly shut out in Canada’s biggest cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. 

But it’s only a political exercise to make it look like O’Toole is listening to the so-called grassroots. It’s obvious to most observers why the Cons are becoming more of a rural rump with each passing election. It’s the pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay and (now) anti-vaccine wingnuts (sorry, it has to be said) in the party’s base that are alienating mainstream voters. 

O’Toole seems to be in a state of denial about that. The party won more of the popular vote than the Liberals. But that’s been true for a number of elections running. The Liberals actually won two more seats than in 2019, despite being denied a majority. The Conservatives counted two fewer than in 2019, including fewer seats in BC and Alberta.

During his TVO spot, O’Toole blamed COVID for the party’s election loss, saying Trudeau “used the pandemic to his political advantage” – that the Liberal leader knew the numbers were going to go up and that voters “got nervous” about changing horses. 

Um, no. Canadians saw the mess Jason Kenney made of the COVID response in Alberta and were rightly freaked out about what a post-pandemic recovery would look like under a Conservative government. Also, while O’Toole tried to present himself as a moderate conservative, voters clearly didn’t buy it.

In O’Toole’s mind, winning next time out is only a matter of winning back the so-called Blue Grits and Red Tories that have historically flipped back and forth between the Libs and Conservatives. Only those voters don’t exist anymore – at least, not for the current incarnation of the party.

The party’s base is closer to the aforementioned Kenney, ideologically speaking, and he’s going down like a lead balloon.

For O’Toole, it all adds up to a losing battle. Indeed, stasis seems to be setting in at CPC headquarters as the party continues to refry the fave wedge issues of its base on its social media channels.

The caucus emerged from its post-election meeting presenting a (mostly) united front. And, so far, the level of backbiting that marked Andrew Scheer’s fall from grace after he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 2019 has yet to show itself in O’Toole’s case.

But there have been signs that some of his opponents are sharpening their knives, with news leaking out right after the election that O’Toole was double-dipping on his housing allowance while living in the opposition leader’s official residence in Ottawa.

The Ottawa press corps has also started to snicker, making jokes about O’Toole’s military background preparing him for his constant about-faces.

It’s clearly unsustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before O’Toole has to realize he’s not the guy to lead this party.


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