Embattled Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told MPs Tuesday he was open to changing his party’s policies should he survive a caucus vote on his leadership, two sources told Global News.
O’Toole faces what he called a “reckoning” with the Conservative caucus Wednesday after 35 MPs signed a petition to force a vote on his leadership over the weekend.
Under rules adopted by Conservative MPs after September’s election loss, a simple majority of caucus can vote to immediately install an interim leader and begin the party’s third leadership contest in six years.
Three sources told Global News that O’Toole and his close allies reached out to MPs Tuesday to try and win their support. Two of those sources said O’Toole opened the door to changing some policies he campaigned on just six months ago — if he survives Wednesday’s vote.
Global News granted the sources anonymity in order to discuss internal party matters.
“It’s too late for that,” said one Conservative caucus source.
“You can have the best policies, you can have the best ideas, you can finally come up with something people agree with. But the message doesn’t matter if you don’t trust the messenger.”
Since September’s disappointing election results — which saw the Conservatives lose ground in crucial regions of the country, compared to 2019’s election loss — O’Toole has had to contend with increasingly vocal frustration from within his own caucus.
A senior Conservative source close to O’Toole, asked what his pitch to caucus will be Wednesday, said the leader will attempt to reach out to leaders within his caucus, including Michelle Rempel Garner, Michael Chong, Ed Fast and Dan Albas.
In a late night social media post Monday, O’Toole framed Wednesday’s vote as a binary choice.
One path, O’Toole wrote, is “angry, negative, and extreme” — exemplified by former MP Derek Sloan, whom O’Toole ejected from caucus after previously defending his leadership campaign — that he called a “dead-end” that would turn the Conservatives into the “NDP of the right.”
The other path “is to better reflect the Canada of 2022” and “recognize that conservatism is not static and that a winning message is one of inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope.”
“It’s time for a reckoning. To settle this in caucus. Right here. Right now. Once and for all,” O’Toole’s post read.
“I will accept the result of this vote. The signers of this letter must accept it, too. They brought it. They’ll have to live with it.”
Even if O’Toole wins the support of a majority of Conservative MPs in the secret ballot vote, however, there are questions about what living with the results will look like for the party.
Should O’Toole win, he and his team will know that at least 30 per cent of caucus does not support his leadership. It’s not clear whether those MPs will continue to be welcome in the Conservative caucus, or if they’ll be ousted — as O’Toole did with Sen. Denise Batters, who previously fronted a petition to force a leadership review.
If both O’Toole and the renegade MPs remain, caucus members who supported O’Toole will know there’s a sizeable chunk of their party willing to kneecap their own leader and his supporters.
O’Toole’s ceiling for support is 70 per cent of caucus, should all 35 MPs who signed the petition follow through and vote for a review. But sources who spoke to Global News Monday and Tuesday do not believe those 35 MPs are alone in opposing O’Toole’s continued tenure, meaning his actual support in a vote, even if he wins, will likely be lower.
“I don’t think there’s a way out of this for him. He can’t get rid of 35, 40 MPs … Do you risk even half of them just walking away?” the caucus source said.
“I don’t think there’s any way through this with a galvanized team united behind the leader.”
In a statement posted Tuesday evening, Calgary MP Bob Benzen, who went public with his call for a leadership review Monday night, agreed with O’Toole on at least one point.
“The Conservative Party has two paths before it. We can be the party of Kim Campbell, or we can be the party of Stephen Harper,” Benzen wrote.
“We can be a party split along regional and ideological lines, or we can be a big-tent party, open to all conservatives.”
In his statement, Benzen referred to Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”