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O'Toole defends removing senator calling for leadership vote as 'necessary' for Conservative unity


Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is defending his decision to remove Sen. Denise Batters from his party’s caucus after she started a petition calling for an expedited review of his leadership, calling it “necessary,” while Batters said the move “speaks volumes” about O’Toole.

“You don't want to make that decision, but really she made it for herself,” O’Toole said Wednesday, on his way into a caucus meeting focused on preparing for the return of Parliament.

“We have to have all members of the team focused at that, and it was a necessary decision to make for the well-being of our caucus, of our Parliament, and of the country,” he said.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Batters said she is, and “always will be a Conservative,” but said that the current leader “cannot tolerate criticism.”

“After the election, I raised my concerns with Mr. O’Toole directly. He did not respond and he did not act. I then asked publicly that our members have a voice. His response now is to kick me out,” she said.

“If Mr. O’Toole is certain that the members of our party support the new direction in which he is taking our party, he should have nothing to fear by facing our members democratically in an expedited confidence vote. That he is fighting against this with threats and intimidation to caucus speaks volumes,” said Batters.

On Monday, the Stephen Harper-appointed Saskatchewan senator launched what quickly became a contentious petition, taking the position that Conservative members should be able to vote within the next six months rather than in 2023 on the direction of the party and whether O’Toole should remain the leader.

In unveiling the call for signatures, Batters said that O’Toole “lost this election by every measure,” and was critical of his “flip-flopped” positions on policies including guns and the carbon tax.

Within hours, Conservative Party President Rob Batherson was publicly dismissing her proposal, saying the effort was in contravention of party policies and procedures, and O’Toole supporters within caucus were quick to offer their backing, calling on Batters to back away from the petition. 

Batters, who has been critical in the past of the current leader, has not been the only party-loyal parliamentarian to speak out about O’Toole’s leadership and 2021 election performance, but has been the only member removed over it.

Asked why Batters was removed and others were not, including Nova Scotia Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald who also called on his colleagues to advance an early leadership review, O’Toole didn’t directly answer.

“We've had two very, very good national caucus meetings, some going as long as six hours and we've united on our way forward as a team. People that are now allowing their frustrations and their own personal agendas, or issues on the pandemic to interfere with our progress are not part of the team,” O’Toole said.

Batters called it a “double standard,” and is continuing to solicit signatures for her petition, which she said has support from MPs. While no current MPs have publicly backed Batters’ calls, she’s cited fears of “repercussions” for doing so as being part of the reason she, as a senator, decided to spearhead the latest leadership challenge.

In October, the Conservative Party suspended a national council member from Ontario, Bert Chen, after he lead an effort to trigger an early leadership review by starting an online petition that also requested that the leadership question be put to members before 2023.

As it stands, O’Toole is set to face a leadership review at the party’s next convention, which is scheduled for 2023.

In October, the caucus voted to give themselves the power to begin an earlier leadership review process. This would require 20 per cent of caucus signing a formal agreement to trigger the review, and then it would require a majority of caucus members to vote to remove the leader through a secret-ballot process. So far, that action has not been taken.

On their way in to Wednesday’s meeting, a handful of Conservative MPs spoke to reporters about their support for their leader.

“Mr. O'Toole has only been leader for just over 14 months. The members just had their say, and I don't think it's productive at all to be taking leaders out after 14 months of being leader without giving Canadians an opportunity to get to know them and again, trust them,” said Manitoba MP Marty Morantz.

The day after the election, O’Toole announced he would be initiating an internal review of what went wrong during the 2021 election campaign. When he announced the review, he said the party was "building towards victory next time.”

Former Alberta MP James Cumming is chairing that review process, which O’Toole said will “ideally” be completed by the end of the year, but has not committed to making the review’s findings public.




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