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COMMENTARY: With Sloan’s expulsion, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole hopes to turn the page

Click to play video 'Derek Sloan ejected from Conservative caucus over ‘pattern of destructive behaviour’' Derek Sloan ejected from Conservative caucus over ‘pattern of destructive behaviour’
WATCH: (Jan. 20, 2021) Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole vowed to ban Derek Sloan from running for the party again and said he would seek his ejection from the Conservative caucus earlier this week – Jan 20, 2021

There was a time when Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole was not so outraged by the behaviour of controversial MP Derek Sloan, who was just voted out of the party caucus on Parliament Hill.

Sloan’s expulsion was triggered by O’Toole, who was “outraged” to learn Sloan had accepted a campaign donation from Paul Fromm, a notorious white supremacist.

Sloan — a lightning rod for controversy for his social-conservative views on abortion, gender identity, same-sex marriage and a host of other issues — had an excuse and explanation for the $131 donation.

The donation from Fromm was made under the name “Frederick P. Fromm” and was not caught by his staff, he said. He also said he told the party to return the money when he became aware of the source.

Sloan later pointed out that the donation — made to his last-place 2020 party leadership campaign — had actually gone through Conservative headquarters, which took a 10 per cent cut of the cash.

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Read more: Derek Sloan ejected from Conservative caucus over ‘pattern of destructive behaviour’

None of this was satisfactory to O’Toole, who triggered the process to boot Sloan from the federal caucus, requiring a secret-ballot vote by Conservative MPs.

“Derek Sloan’s acceptance of a donation from a well-known white supremacist is far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence,” O’Toole said.

Conservative MPs later backed their party leader, voting to expel Sloan, who will now sit as an Independent MP in the House of Commons.

At a time when Canadians are horrified by a surge of extremism in the United States — especially the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of now-former president Donald Trump — it’s easy to see why O’Toole wants to purge Conservative ranks.

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Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had been scoring plenty of political points against O’Toole by accusing him of engaging in Trump-style tactics and talking points.

But it was not that long ago when O’Toole was more than tolerant of Sloan’s behaviour.

Last year, Sloan sparked outrage when he questioned the loyalty of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

Sloan said Tam, who was born in Hong Kong, had “failed Canada” during the COVID-19 pandemic and asked if she works “for Canada or for China.”

The remark sparked demands for Sloan to apologize, and the issue was put to a vote by members of the party’s Ontario caucus. O’Toole was one of only two Conservative MPs who voted against the call for Sloan to apologize. (The other was Sloan himself.)

Read more: Tory caucus to meet Wednesday to determine fate of MP Derek Sloan

Why did O’Toole side with Sloan? Because they were both running for the Conservative leadership, and O’Toole had his eye on second-ballot votes from Sloan supporters.

Of course, politics are a lot different when the target audience is made up of members of your own party.

Now O’Toole is vying for the votes of all Canadians, not just Conservative members in the party’s right flank.

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O’Toole clearly feels vulnerable to Liberal attacks accusing him of being “Trump North” and he hopes to blunt these assaults by removing Sloan, while issuing a lengthy written statement insisting there is no room for the “far right” in the Conservative Party.

It’s a smart, if obvious, strategy for O’Toole, who must appeal to moderate, centrist Canadian voters if he wants to replace Trudeau as prime minister.

But I suspect the Liberals are secretly pleased with the results of their efforts to brand O’Toole as “Trump Lite” and the Conservatives as Canada’s version of Trump’s Republican Party.

At least O’Toole can take some solace at Trump’s departure, which may reduce the effectiveness of his enemies’ efforts to paint him with the same nasty brush.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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