OTTAWA — Efforts to oust controversial Conservative MP Derek Sloan from the party’s caucus moved swiftly Tuesday as party leader Erin O’Toole pushed to have the deed done by the week’s end.
At least 24 Conservative MPs were needed to sign a letter asking for Sloan’s removal, and those names were put to paper less than 24 hours after O’Toole put Sloan on notice that his time on the party’s benches was up.
The meeting where all Conservative MPs will vote by secret ballot is expected to be held either late Tuesday or on Wednesday.
O’Toole has said what triggered the decision was a $131 donation from a "well-known white supremacist" to Sloan’s leadership campaign, a contribution first reported by PressProgress, a media outlet affiliated with the Broadbent Institute, which has close links to the federal NDP.
But within and outside the party, the move was seen more as O’Toole seizing an opening to respond to pressure to remove Sloan, whose strong social-conservative views have been perceived as a barrier to O’Toole’s stated commitment to present a more inclusive party to Canadians.
Sloan was first elected as the MP for the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington in 2019 and stunned many of his fellow MPs by running to lead the party not long after.
He generated several controversies during the contest, and after: he was accused of racism for remarks pertaining to the country’s chief public health officer; suggested being LGBTQ was not a matter of science; compared a ban on therapy designed to force a person to change their gender or sexual identity to child abuse; and recently sponsored a petition that questioned the science behind vaccines.
During the race, O’Toole himself told MPs Sloan ought not be kicked out of caucus over the remarks he made about Dr. Theresa Tam, even buying ads on social media trumpeting that position.
That a donation would be the thing that finally saw him turn against Sloan raised some eyebrows, even among those who say they don’t think Sloan should be part of the team.
"That he plays silly bugger word games that homosexuality is a choice should have disqualified him. But kicking him out over a donation from a racist who disguised his identity? So many good reasons to kick him out. Not sure this is one," wrote Chisholm Pothier on Twitter. He had helped leadership candidate Peter MacKay’s campaign and has a long history in provincial and federal conservative politics.
"Glad he’s gone. But ends justifying the means is easy, principled politics is hard."
Paul Fromm, who has been connected to Holocaust deniers and other white nationalist groups for years, made the donation to Sloan’s campaign using his full name of Frederick P. Fromm, and gave the money in August.
Efforts to oust controversial Conservative MP Derek Sloan from the party’s caucus moved swiftly Tuesday as party leader Erin O’Toole pushed to have the deed done by the week’s end. #cdnpoli
He also holds a membership in the Conservative Party, voted in the leadership race and had registered for a virtual convention the party is holding in March.
O’Toole mentioned none of those in his condemnation of the donation, nor has the party said yet whether Fromm will be able to attend, or to continue to hold his card.
Fromm called himself a longtime advocate for free speech, and a person who believes the country ought to get back to an immigration approach that will "stop the replacement of the European founding settler people in this country."
"I don’t see wanting to preserve your own people as racist," he said in an interview.
"But your word is so fluid, I guess it can mean anything to anybody."
Fromm said he’s never met Sloan, and while Sloan’s policies did appeal to him, he argued that to suggest his money, membership or desire to participate in the convention taints Sloan or the party is ridiculous.
Other Conservative MPs, including O’Toole, ought to be wary, he said.
"I wonder if people entirely peruse all the people who donated to him? Could there be somebody there who might have had a criminal record or ties to this or that group?" he said.
"I think basically, somebody is out to get Sloan and are prepared to use just about anything."
Fromm said next time he’ll just donate to the "reddest red Tory," and let that candidate be forced out.
O’Toole had entered the leadership race with many of the party’s more right-wing members suggesting he was in fact a "red Tory," a reference to his relatively progressive, moderate views.
He styled himself during the leadership race, however, as "true blue," and directly courted backers of both Sloan and of Leslyn Lewis, the other avowed social conservative in the race. When O’Toole won the contest, it was largely due to those groups’ support on later ballots.
When he took over the party, O’Toole pledged to expand the so-called "big blue tent," but constantly faced questions about how he’d live up to that, given the known factions within the party whose views do not align with O’Toole’s own.
Those factions were already gearing up to try to play an outsized role at the party’s coming policy convention in March, organizing to advance several socially conservative positions through policy motions.
Their efforts were in part spurred on by Sloan himself, who had been aggressively pushing people to sign up as delegates, a move viewed within caucus as challenging O’Toole.
Sloan declined to say what he was hoping to achieve at the convention, saying he is now focused on what he called the fight of his life.
He expressed some surprise that O’Toole, who had supported him when MPs had tried to get him removed from caucus last year, was now doing an about face.
"O’Toole ran a leadership campaign on fighting cancel culture and promoting a big-tent version of the Conservative Party," Sloan said.
"And I hope that he has not jettisoned that in favour of perceived short-term political gain."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.