Conservative MPs vote to remove Erin O’Toole as leader

Conservative MPs vote to remove Erin O’Toole as leader

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A majority of Conservative MPs today voted to remove Erin O’Toole as party leader, paving the way for another leadership race only 18 months after the party finished the last one.

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Erin O’Toole voted out as Conservative Party leader | CBC News special

A majority of Conservative MPs voted to remove Erin O’Toole as party leader. CBC News has special coverage from Ottawa. 0:00

A majority of Conservative MPs today voted to remove Erin O’Toole as party leader, paving the way for another leadership race only 18 months after the party finished the last one.

The result wasn’t particularly close: 73 of the 118 MPs on hand — the party’s caucus chair, Scott Reid, did not cast a ballot — voted to replace O’Toole with someone else. 

O’Toole, a four-term Ontario MP who has fought only one federal election campaign as the party’s leader, will be replaced by an interim leader later today after another caucus vote.

New Brunswick MP John Williamson, who was a senior staffer in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s office, immediately put his name forward for that interim role, promising to ensure the party elects a permanent leader in a “fair and efficient contest.”

Tom Kmiec, a social conservative Alberta MP who opposed the recent conversion therapy ban bill — claiming it would criminalize “normal conversations” between parents and children about “sexual behaviour” — has also put his name forward for the interim job.

“It’ll be up to my caucus members to make the final decision,” he told reporters.

O’Toole, who represents the riding of Durham in suburban Toronto, faced a barrage of criticism from his colleagues for shifting the party’s positions on carbon taxation, balanced budgets and “assault-style” firearms during the election campaign.

Anti-O’Toole MPs were also frustrated that the Ontario Tory ran as a “true blue” Conservative in the party’s leadership race only to shift the party to the centre when in the top job. In the end, enough MPs decided it was grounds for his dismissal.

O’Toole’s warning — that a vote against him and his more moderate vision of Canadian conservatism would put the party on the wrong path — failed to rally enough MPs to his side.

Garnett Genuis, one of the MPs who led the fight against O’Toole, was tight-lipped after the vote.

Earlier this week, Genuis lashed out at O’Toole and his staff, accusing them of lying about his record to suppress a caucus revolt.

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Conservative MP Garnett Genuis walks towards West Block before question period on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Genuis said Wednesday the lopsided vote against O’Toole gives the party an “opportunity to come together and move forward as a Conservative party that’s united and focused.”

While he helped to lead the effort to dump O’Toole, Genuis said he’s “absolutely not” interested in running to replace him.

In a statement after the vote, Matt Jeneroux, an Edmonton-area MP who also backed the movement to fire O’Toole, said the party needs a leader who “clearly reflects our values.”

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Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux rises during in the House of Commons on February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“We must rebuild trust amongst Canadians and show them that we are strong and stable leaders who are rooted in our values while also understanding that we can evolve, learn and modernize our party to reflect all,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the party.”

Social conservative and anti-abortion activists celebrated O’Toole’s decisive defeat. O’Toole’s efforts to drag the party to the centre on social issues — the party suppressed debate on abortion during the last Conservative policy convention, for example — alienated some Conservative ground troops.

‘Fake conservative’

“O’Toole has time and again betrayed the party’s socially conservative base with his support for abortion, LGBT ideology, oppressive lockdowns, and liberty-destroying passports for abortion-tainted vaccines,” said Jeff Gunnarson, the president of the Campaign Life Coalition. “It’s about time this fake conservative was given the boot.”

Conservative MP Eric Duncan, an O’Toole ally and caucus secretary to the party, thanked the outgoing leader for his service while urging members to “unite” and “focus on defeating the Liberals in the next election.”

“Leadership races can be a uniting process. We can be united. We need to get on the same page and we need to move in the same direction and I’m very confident there’s a strong willingness to do that,” he said.

Ontario MP Michael Barrett, a confidant of O’Toole and a member of his leadership team, said the outgoing leader did the best he could to steer the party through uncertain times.

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Conservative MP for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Michael Barrett rises during question period in the House of Commons on April 16, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Barrett said O’Toole had led the party for less than a year when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election last fall, giving him little time to properly introduce himself to voters and challenge Trudeau for power.

“It’s been tough being the leader of the opposition,” Barrett said. “Now, I just want to make sure our party elects a leader that gives us the best opportunity to replace a tired and corrupt Liberal government.”

This development will force the party brass to immediately begin organizing a leadership race on a very tight timeline. An election could be called at any time in this minority Parliament.

The Reform Act, the federal legislation that empowers Conservative MPs to remove their leader, does not specify how the next permanent leader will be elected, leaving that decision to the party itself.

The party’s national council will meet as soon as possible to start planning for that race, a spokesperson for the party said. The first step for the council is to appoint a leadership election organizing committee to plan this contest.

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