Erin O’Toole’s leadership will be put to a vote of Conservative MPs Wednesday after months of infighting severely weakened his hold over the party.
Multiple Conservative sources confirmed Monday evening that 35 MPs – roughly 30 per cent of the Conservatives’ 119-strong caucus – signed a petition requesting a caucus vote on O’Toole’s continued leadership. The existence of the petition was first reported by the Globe and Mail.
The anti-O’Toole faction within the party believes more will sign on to the petition now that it’s public.
A senior Conservative source told Global News that O’Toole intends to fight to salvage his leadership.
“This isn’t about leadership anymore. It’s a fracture in the party,” said one MP, who spoke to Global News on the condition they not be named, Monday evening.
In a Tweet late on Monday, O’Toole said he will accept the result of the vote.
“I’m not going anywhere and I’m not turning back. Canada needs us to be united and serious!” O’Toole wrote.
If he loses the vote, the Conservatives will be plunged into their third leadership contest in six years.
If O’Toole wins the vote, he would be presiding over a Conservative caucus with full knowledge that a significant number of his own MPs have lost faith in his leadership – and could continue to undermine it publicly and privately.
Scott Reid, the veteran Conservative MP and caucus chair, did not immediately respond to Global News’ request for comment. O’Toole’s office had no immediate comment.
But a senior source close to O’Toole blamed the infighting on the “Conversion Crew.” That’s a reference to social conservative MPs who the source said were unhappy with the party’s decision to support banning conversion therapy.
O’Toole and the Conservative caucus stunned political observers in December when they agreed to fast track the Liberal government legislation banning conversion therapy – a discredited pseudo-scientific practice aimed at changing LGTBQ people’s sexual orientation.
O’Toole – as well as many social conservatives within his caucus – had expressed concerns with how the bill was drafted.
“The far-right of the party (is) not happy with the leader over it,” the source, who requested anonymity to discuss party infighting, told Global News.
The source suggested Alberta MP Garnett Genuis – who supported O’Toole during 2020 leadership, including doing outreach for his campaign – had spearheaded the petition.
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The source suggested the rebellious caucus members wanted former leader Andrew Scheer, who stepped down after the 2019 election loss, to lead the party again – something a source close to Scheer called “farcical.”
“It’s a cornered badger,” said one MP.
“If they cared for caucus at all, they would recognize it’s untenable and unsustainable.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, Genuis accused O’Toole of “false and personal attacks.”
“This is the kind of division that is tearing at our party and it must come to an end,” Genuis wrote, adding he signed the petition but was not the organizer.
“We need leadership that unites instead of divides … Mr. O’Toole should recognize that his position is untenable, rather than using lies to publicly attack members of his own team.”
O’Toole has faced multiple calls to step down after last September’s disappointing election resulted in lost ground for the party, despite taking big gambles in supporting carbon pricing and significant deficit spending. Most recently, multiple Conservative riding associations called for an early review of O’Toole’s leadership – not currently scheduled until late 2023.
Last week, former MP James Cumming presented his findings on where O’Toole’s campaign fell short. But a caucus source said the meeting quickly went off the rails – after Global News reported some of those findings while MPs were still digesting the report, which did little to address the simmering anger of the anti-O’Toole faction within caucus.