Conservative members of Parliament have ousted leader Erin O’Toole, delivering a stinging rebuke of his brief tenure and triggering the party’s third leadership race in seven years.
Late Wednesday, the caucus elected deputy leader Candice Bergen as interim leader.
Mr. O’Toole did not speak to reporters after the vote, which went 73 to 45 against him. In a video posted to Twitter, he pledged “support and unwavering loyalty to our next leader, and I urge everyone in our party to come together and do the same.”
He said he would remain as MP for Durham.
In a nearly four-hour virtual meeting, MPs heard from the dissenters calling for his removal, with Mr. O’Toole having the final word before the vote, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. In his speech, one of the sources said, Mr. O’Toole told MPs “my commitment to change starts at the top … give it a chance to work.” He added: “You have been heard. My goal will be to bring us together.”
But the sources said the promise came up short, in part because one of the biggest challenges to his credibility was his alternating positions between the right and left of the party and policy flip-flops before, during and after the federal election.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not permitted to discuss the internal deliberations.
The push to remove him began with a core group of MPs unhappy with the changing positions on everything from a carbon tax to gun control, and criticism of his lack of consultation with caucus members.
Mr. O’Toole found out on Monday that 35 MPs had signed a letter to force a vote on his leadership. He and his backers scrambled to rally support, but in the end, 62 per cent of MPs voted for him to leave.
Prospective leadership candidates include Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, a social conservative who placed third in the previous race, popular finance critic Pierre Poilievre, and former cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who placed second to Mr. O’Toole in 2020. Another name being mentioned is Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, a former Tory MP and Ontario Progressive Conservative leader.
Former minister and interim leader Rona Ambrose said on Wednesday she will not seek the job. Quebec MP and house leader Gérard Deltell also said he wouldn’t run.
The caucus meeting began with a speech by Alberta MP Chris Warkentin, who spearheaded the push to trigger the internal leadership vote. The sources said he laid out the problems with Mr. O’Toole’s leadership, including his changing positions and failure to consult with caucus.
Mr. O’Toole won the leadership in August, 2020, promising to be a “true blue” Conservative, but took the party to the centre, advocating deficit spending and a carbon price. Those measures angered some members, including MPs who endorsed him in the leadership race.
The Conservatives lost seats in the September election, but held the Liberals to a minority government and won the popular vote – something that was unexpected at the start of the campaign, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s team had expected to win a majority. Mr. O’Toole pledged to take the Conservatives to the next election.
Before Wednesday’s vote, the four sources said, Mr. O’Toole promised the caucus he would move up the date of the national convention that would include a leadership review from the party’s membership. Conservatives said that promise was viewed as too little, too late, because dissidents had been demanding for months that it be moved up from 2023.
“There are people from all different parts of our party who are in agreement on one thing, and that is they didn’t feel that Mr. O’Toole was giving the leadership that they wanted for the party or going in the direction they wanted,” former deputy leader Lisa Raitt told The Globe on Wednesday.
Alberta MP Ron Liepert said it became clear a fresh start was needed to pull the “disparate bunch” that is caucus together. “Erin wasn’t going to be able to do it.”
Pollster Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research, said the challenge for the party is to prevent the leadership race from becoming a fight between social progressives and social conservatives.
“It has to decide if it wants to fight a civil war for the future of the Conservative Party or whether it wants to fight the Liberals,” he said. “And if this leadership turns into a civil war between more progressive and more socially conservative members, then the Conservatives will be divided and they will undermine their ability to challenge the Liberals.”
Conservatives on Parliament Hill said the party can unify around one leader, after failing to do so with Mr. O’Toole or his predecessor, Andrew Scheer, who was elected in 2017.
The lack of unity under Mr. O’Toole was what prompted MPs to vote against him, Saskatchewan MP Corey Tochor said. “We needed a new captain to bring us all together,” he said.
Mr. Tochor said the next leader needs to “be a good listener, has to listen to caucus, has to reach out.”
“We need a fighter, we have serious issues in Canada and we have to have a fighter in our leader to express the concerns that Canadians have on the direction of where we’re going as a country,” he said.
“Perhaps the third time will be the charm,” said party president Rob Batherson.
So far no one has officially put their name forward for the permanent post. But MPs said people from their own ranks like Michelle Rempel Garner and Mr. Poilievre would be worthy candidates.
Alberta MP Michael Cooper said he would be “100 per cent” behind Mr. Poilievre if he seeks the leadership. He said the finance critic, who has a reputation as bulldog in Parliament, “has wide respect in the base” of the party.
With reports from Bill Curry and Joy SpearChief-Morris.
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