OTTAWA — The Conservative senator ousted for spearheading an effort to review Erin O'Toole's leadership says a forthcoming report of the party's election loss must confront its most serious flaws — including its leader's.
Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters was shown the door to the national Conservative caucus last year, after launching a petition for members to sign in hopes that it would trigger the party to hold an earlier leadership review.
The Conservative party has rejected that process as invalid, but concerns still remain within caucus and more broadly about O'Toole's ability to lead.
Among those are frustrations over reversals he made on the campaign trail on promises related to gun control and conscience rights, issues which are important to many supporters.
Following his loss, O'Toole tapped former MP James Cumming to review the party's election performance — the findings of which are set to be presented to caucus next Thursday.
Batters says she wasn't invited to participate in the review, even though she says others who did told the author to get in touch with her.
Cumming says he doesn't recall that, but he spoke to more than 400 people for his report and didn't turn down any requests to take part.
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"This campaign review must accurately reflect all the major problems that were raised during meetings with participants," Batters said in a statement.
"I have heard that questions seemed to focus on operational and process issues rather than what many participants viewed as the more significant problems of the leader, the platform and the many flip-flops that occurred during the election. "
A party spokesman confirmed this week that plans remain unchanged to keep the review for internal eyes only, which means those of senior staff as well as its caucus and national council.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.
Conservatives are probably as
Conservatives are probably as mystified as every Canadian is about what CPC leader Erin O’Toole is up to. He and most Canadians know what the party’s existential problem is but, if O’Toole has a plan what to do about it, he might be alone in knowing what it is. The jury of his co-partisans is obviously still hung about whether he should be booted be or given reprieve, post-review.
It’s as if the extreme right faction of the now-bifurcated party (East and West CPC MPs are at parity for the first time after two decades of Western Reform dominance) aims to keep O’Toole tangled up in its own obsession with winning power by means other than popular approval—approval it doesn’t have, and therefore means such as a tRump-style, all-or-nothing culture war which doesn’t really exist in Canada—except, of course, within the CPC.
Ironically, it’s that fundamental disingenuousness which Canadians and O’Toole—and not a few CPC MPs and supporters—are well aware of: the far-right faction pretends it doesn’t know anything about the party’s steady decline or that it is the primary cause, and its paean of partisan ad hominem portraying a majority of voters as victims of social democracy is—as widely agreed— proof of presumptuousness not worthy of voters’ trust. But when O’Toole promised to make the party attractive to voters who have never supported it hitherto, everybody, including the CPC’s problematic Redoubter faction, understood what that meant: wannabe tRumpublicans will either have to be cowed, converted, or banished form the party.
Yet O’Toole, a cabinet minister and leadership contender to replace Harper, cannot have been so naive as to expect the extremist faction (which was on particularly damning display in that first post-Harper leadership race) to moderate themselves just because a potentially disloyal, suspiciously red Tory from the East promised they would in during his leadership victory speech. He knew the extremists would react to that, and they did.
Although striking a bold stance against both Liberals and the CPC’s extremist faction, O’Toole has actually been nothing but careful and calculating, from quiet, unassuming backbencher to uncontroversial cabinet minister (who spelled-off a string controversial predecessors in Veterans Affairs whom Harper realized had offended a once-rock-solid institution of conservative support), to a leadership contender content to let more flamboyant rivals poison their own stew with extreme positions (and the winner and runner-up to subsequently land on their electoral noses), and on to winning his second stab at leadership in a field thus reduced, against whom he appeared the best choice without having to resort to the right’s usual dirty campaign tricks.
Such has been the progress of Erin O’Toole that his inviting LGBTQ voters to join the party was guaranteed to provoke reaction from his own party—and it did. His strategy had become plain: to gain enough popularity to win power the party has to moderate itself, and that obvious ultimatum to the party’s far-right was but another carefully considered step in O’Toole’s plan. The toe of each one always tests the water first and, since nobody has succeeded in bumping him off his pathway of stepping stones yet, it appears he’s still on-track.
The CPC far-right either keeps up appearances or is a true believer it is a hero unjustly deprived (or both), but the irony is it doesn’t appear to understand that its base is too small to hold the party and the country ransom like tRumpublicans do in the US. Its Western faction is depleted and tiresome in its obstinance on Covid, climate change and reconciliation; its threat of secession (after Sheer won virtually all of the Prairies, BC Interior and scattered farming enclaves in the East—but not government) was a tell that O’Toole carefully tested by kissing Albetar premier Kenney’s ring before winning the leadership (some kind of reassurance when no Westerners contested the leadership anyway?) Yet he didn’t make hay out of the Reformers’ ridiculous caterwauling about “not being represented” in Ottawa (rather, it remained the official opposition after 2019 and 2021 elections). Nevertheless, Western alienation is a patriotic matter, not a partisan one (like Reformers can’t get out of their heads). Anyway, O’Toole hasn’t risen to the Wexit bait or to Kenney’s quasi-secessionist bluster: he hasn’t ignored it, but neither has he thrown it any sops.
Rather, in typical fashion of considered politics, O’Toole has probably taken stock of the general trend: Albetar’s (and sidekick Saskashewan’s) political screeching about the declining bitumen industry has become so shrill, expect to hear a croak sooner than later; right-wing provincial governments in the West have been teetering precariously—16-year BC Liberal and 44-year Albetarian Conservative regimes have fallen, the latter euthanized and the former anesthetized; Albetar’s UCP government, the reactionary response to the province’s first NDP government, has been an absolute disaster and the NDP appears poised to regain power in 2023; BC’s NDP has broken through its historical ceiling by re-electing the same NDP leader, and the party remains popular; The Manitoba PC government is tottering with an NDP Opposition breathing down its neck. Why should this be good news to O’Toole?
The heart of neo-right extremism, the Western Reformer faction of the CPC which O’Toole needs to tamp down, is falling out of favour, leaving room for moderates to come forward—if there’s a moderate conservative party to come to, the sooner they’ll appear. The strategy has to be calm and patient enough to allow the extremists to destroy themselves, to quell obsession with winning power at any cost and accept that rebuilding a moderate party which more Canadians can support will probably take a least a term—maybe two or three—, and to develop policies which should have been conservative ones all along—like conserving the environment and national sovereignty (the two big areas where the HarperCons diverged from true conservatism).
O’Toole is looking careful enough to pull it off, but of course it’s not entirely up to him. Fortunately he’s in the reverse situation the tRumpublicans are: their weighty voter base has the GOP by the balls whereas it’s O’Toole who has CPC extremists by their extremity: they can either acquiesce or be left at the side of the road. Their threat that the right can’t win without them is hollow: if a moderate, centre right party appeared on the ballot, it would doubtlessly do very well by gathering the large number of erstwhile Tories who’ve either stayed at home or been voting for other parties since 1997.
If O’Toole gets booted from the leadership, he could well be the leader of that moderate Tory party—and everybody knows it. That’s why CPC members don’t know if it’s a firing offence that he didn’t win government last time.