Erin O’Toole warned his critics that they could meet the same fate as Senator Denise Batters, who was ousted from the Conservative caucus this week after she challenged his leadership of the party.
Her expulsion from the Tory caucus was the first major public move from Mr. O’Toole to quash internal dissent that threatens his leadership, more than one year after he was elected to the post.
On Wednesday, as Mr. O’Toole entered a daylong meeting of Conservative MPs and senators, he said his caucus is focused on the economy, the pandemic and the “corrupt and cover-up-prone” Liberal government.
“Anyone who is not on that page, who’s not putting the team and the country first, will not be part of this team,” Mr. O’Toole told reporters.
He said ousting Ms. Batters was a difficult decision. But, he added, “Really, she made it for herself.”
Mr. O’Toole’s office is tracking and organizing caucus members who are in favour of his leadership, in an effort to consolidate support. A majority of the Conservative caucus has agreed to oust MPs who are working against the party’s leadership, a Conservative source said.
The source, whom The Globe and Mail is not identifying because they were not permitted to disclose internal party deliberations, said 70 to 80 MPs have said they would vote to remove any MP who is working to push out Mr. O’Toole. CBC first reported the news.
Ms. Batters launched a petition Monday that called on party members to support a review of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership within the next six months, rather than wait for the next party convention, which is expected in 2023. The Saskatchewan senator was the first caucus member to publicly disavow Mr. O’Toole, but she said in a statement accompanying the petition that there were many Conservatives unhappy with his leadership. She called him untrustworthy and unclear on key issues.
The Conservative Party, unlike the Liberals and the NDP, doesn’t allow MPs to be removed from caucus by the leader alone. Instead, removal happens through a caucus vote. The rule is part of the Reform Act, a 2014 piece of legislation that requires parties, after each election, to let their MPs vote internally on this and other measures aimed at giving caucus members power to direct certain party affairs.
The expulsion process is triggered when 20 per cent of a party’s MPs sign a letter requesting a review of a caucus member. The source said 24 MPs (the minimum number required in the Conservative Party’s 119-member caucus) have said they would sign a letter to start a review.
The caucus would then hold a secret vote, where the affected MP’s future would be decided by a simple majority. The Conservatives would need 60 votes to expel a member.
The source said the strongest dissent against Mr. O’Toole is coming from people who were close to former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, as well as caucus members who are strongly opposed to vaccine mandates.
Threatening MPs with expulsion is a gamble for Mr. O’Toole and his allies. It could further alienate caucus members who are not happy with his leadership.
Ontario MP Michael Chong told reporters Wednesday that he supports the expulsion of Ms. Batters. He said her petition was out of line with the Reform Act and the Conservative Party constitution.
“We can’t abide by members who aren’t following the law, and that’s one of the reasons why the decision was taken, which I fully support,” he said.
In a statement Wednesday, Ms. Batters said Mr. O’Toole can’t tolerate criticism. “If Mr. O’Toole is certain that the members of our party support the new direction in which he is leading our party, he should have nothing to fear by facing our members democratically in an expedited confidence vote,” she said.
Conservative MPs who stopped to talk to journalists Wednesday were supportive of Ms. Batters’s removal.
“Denise made her choices, and we have got to focus on what Canadians need, and get back to work,” said Ontario MP Scott Aitchison, adding that he hoped the action against the senator ends discussions about challenging Mr. O’Toole’s leadership.
Manitoba MP Marty Morantz said he doesn’t think “it’s productive at all to be taking leaders out after 14 months.”
“Mr. O’Toole will have to defend his leadership in the due course of time,” he added.
Mr. O’Toole announced Ms. Batters’s exit in a statement Tuesday evening. She responded by vowing to continue her petition, and she criticized the Conservative Leader for telling her of her ouster over voice mail.
Her leadership challenge came a week after Mr. O’Toole sidelined dissenters from his shadow cabinet – his selection of senior MPs that are appointed to specific portfolios within the caucus. His former leadership rivals Leslyn Lewis and Marilyn Gladu were not given roles. Both have been highly critical of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The Conservative Party has hired the digital strategy firm Mobilize Media, the company’s founder, Jeff Ballingall, confirmed to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. The consultancy bills itself as being able to grow support online and influence public opinion. Mr. Ballingall previously worked for Mr. O’Toole’s leadership campaign. He is also the founder of Canada Proud, a conservative media network that has Facebook and Instagram pages with high numbers of followers. Canada Proud says it is working to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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