Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole’s recent announcement that MP Derek Sloan, a former leadership rival, has been expelled from the Conservative caucus can only be described as hypocritical. Sloan himself has made this point and he is right.
There are many reasons why Sloan should have been declared persona non grata by the party long ago, but having accepted a $131 leadership campaign donation from a so-called “white nationalist” is not one of them. To begin with, Sloan is perfectly correct in noting that it is standard political practice for candidates to be unaware of who has donated to their campaigns in order to avoid the perception of conflict of interest. He is also correct in noting that the Conservative Party accepted and processed the donation months ago, and that the contributor, widely known as Paul Fromm, signed the cheque as Mr. Frederick P. Fromm.
Far more importantly, Mr. Sloan could be forgiven for thinking – incorrectly as it turns out — that he would continue to find a home in the party and the caucus as long as O’Toole is the leader. This is, after all, the same Erin O’Toole who disregarded repeated calls by many other Conservative MPs to ditch Sloan ages ago. Their reasons included the rookie MP’s thinly disguised racist attack on Dr. Theresa Tam, his anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and his promotion of COVID conspiracy theories and a petition questioning the safety of the vaccines now in use.
But Mr. O’Toole chose to ignore all of them. He argued publicly that individual MPs had the right to their views and free speech is a fundamental tenet of conservatives. Privately, however, Mr. O’Toole was intent on placating the social conservative wing of the party, which is now the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Indeed, during the leadership race his campaign proudly declared that “Erin was the only one to speak out on Derek’s behalf” when the caucus tried to remove Sloan earlier. He was rewarded with the social conservative vote when Sloan dropped off the ballot, handing him the leadership.
So why has the Conservative leader changed his tune, and why now? What caused Mr O’Toole to have a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus about a caucus member who has been spouting extremist views for more than a year? The simple answer is that the Broadbent Institute, a left-wing think tank closely related to the NDP, recently discovered the donation and made it public, causing O’Toole and the party much embarrassment.
The more complex explanation lies in the shifting fortunes of far right Trumpism, now in freefall in the U.S. and even more so in Canada. For O’Toole, a man whose leadership campaign slogans included “Take Back Canada” and “Canada First”, who has given interviews to the utterly discredited alt-right Rebel News, whose deputy leader Candice Bergen has now been seen by thousands of Canadians wearing a MAGA ball cap, and whose caucus includes members expressing support for Trump publicly, this is a serious perception problem. With polls showing O’Toole’s party losing support since he became leader, something had to be done to stem the bleeding, and Sloane was a convenient scapegoat.
Evidently O’Toole was already trying to change Canadians’ perceptions of his party back in the fall, when he attempted to overtake the Liberals on the LEFT, luring NDP voters by claiming his Conservative Party was actually the close friend and supporter of unions, a claim that left most observers speechless. Now he is desperately trying to assert that actually the Conservative Party is located in the dead centre of the political spectrum.
Why anyone would believe this is a mystery. Saying it does not make it so. According to a recent Leger poll, nearly 40% of Conservative supporters would have voted for Trump in the 2019 election and almost as many still believe his defeat was the result of electoral fraud. This is more than a perception problem. This is a party with a serious identity crisis.
Obviously O’Toole was worried, and rightly so, that the Liberals would make political hay out of this latest revelation about Sloan and so, finally, he had to be thrown under the bus. Make no mistake. Sloan is now paying the price not because he was a philosophical affront to the party, but because he was a political liability, an albatross around O’Toole’s neck. Pure opportunism, and not righteous wrath, is the only motivator here. At least O’Toole’s predecessor, Andrew Scheer, really is a social conservative. His views, sadly on display for all the world to see in the last federal election, are deeply and genuinely held. Erin O’Toole, on the other hand, has demonstrated conclusively that he is simply an opportunist whose views change with the prevailing winds. Under his leadership the Conservative Party of Canada will remain an outlier. True, there were pitifully few options on offer during the party’s last leadership race, but the membership’s failure to choose Peter McKay, (who may not be the sharpest blade in the pack, but who was the only one who could conceivably lay claim to the venerable Progressive Conservative party legacy) was an error that will cost them the next election and very possibly remain an albatross around their necks for many yea