Erin O’Toole says the Conservatives need to stay the course to defeat the Liberals in the next election amid increasingly public challenges to his leadership.
In an interview with The West Block, O’Toole claimed his party’s belief is that the Liberals actually lost the recent federal election because they failed to secure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau another majority mandate.
After weeks of reports of internal division within the Conservative movement, O’Toole said the party needs to “keep going” in the direction he’s set for them.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t form government, but we’re right there,” O’Toole told host Mercedes Stephenson.
“If we can continue to be professional, speak to the issues that Canadians want to hear from the Conservative Party on and bring a positive approach to a more united Canada, a more prosperous Canada, that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
O’Toole also claimed the party made “strategic gains” in suburban ridings in the last election – despite returning to Ottawa with fewer MPs and losing key ridings in urban centres.
“And the support we’re hearing, especially in ridings that were close or that we can pick up next time is ‘let’s keep going.’ Let’s keep engaging more people in our dialogue and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Batters “made the decision” to leave O’Toole’s team
O’Toole has been hearing a different message from some members within the Conservative movement. On Monday, Conservative Sen. Denise Batters publicly urged the party’s rank-and-file to push for an early leadership review.
Batters – and the as-yet-unnamed backers of her petition – argued O’Toole had betrayed Conservative principles in a perceived shift to the political centre, and suggested the party cannot win under his continued leadership.
O’Toole’s team responded by booting Batters – a longtime party activist appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper – from the national caucus.
“She made the decision to essentially leave the team herself,” O’Toole told Stephenson.
“Anyone that’s been on a team, either a sports team, in business or in my time in the military, when you’re actually fighting against your own team, you’re helping your adversary. And we’re here to actually hold the Trudeau government to account at a time when the country needs a smart, professional, united Conservative Party more than ever.”
While Batters has been removed from the party’s national caucus, she remains a member of the Conservatives’ 18-member Senate caucus.
O’Toole said the Conservative senators “will handle their own internal affairs” when Parliament returns next week.
All MPs vaccinated or have exemptions: O’Toole
The Conservative leader confirmed all Conservative MPs “will be vaccinated or will have a medical exemption” when the House of Commons opens next week.
Going back to the campaign trail, O’Toole repeatedly refused to say how many of his MPs and candidates were vaccinated. Party officials refused to even say if they knew the number, although sources told Global News last month they believed a “handful” of MPs had still not been vaccinated.
“I think members of Parliament have to be positive forces of public discussion about the pandemic, including questions about vaccines. And we’ll be having that approach when Parliament gets back,” O’Toole said.
Some Conservative parliamentarians recently banded together to form a “civil liberties” mini-caucus to raise concerns about their constituents potentially losing jobs for refusing to be vaccinated, with Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu as the group’s public face.
But O’Toole denied any such group exists.
“What I’ve said consistently is there’s a difference between a member of Parliament hearing from a constituent and wanting to advocate for them and how the member of Parliament conduct themselves in their own workplace. And that’s the distinction here,” O’Toole said.
Caucus can “hold me to account internally”
Despite Batters’ expulsion and tamping down internal disagreements over vaccinations, O’Toole is likely to still face challenges – either publicly or anonymously – from a contingent of the Conservative caucus that wants him gone before the next election.
And the Conservative leader will likely still face a grassroots referendum on his leadership – albeit not until the party’s next convention in 2023.
But O’Toole told Stephenson his caucus’ adoption of the Reform Act – which gives them the ability to challenge his leadership at any time – means they “have a measure to hold me to account internally.”
“We need to just build on (the 2021 election) and win the trust of more Canadians next time,” O’Toole said.
“And we’re not going to do that if we take our eye off of holding the Liberals to account.”