By Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole has lost a vote to remain as leader of the Official Opposition after a majority of his fellow Conservative MPs cast a ballot in favour of pushing him out of the top job.
The party’s 119 members of Parliament met via video conference to cast secret ballots after about one-third of them signed a notice that triggered a leadership review.
Ontario MP and national caucus chair Scott Reid said in a statement that 73 Conservative MPs voted to replace him while 45 endorsed him. As caucus chair, Reid said he did not vote.
Three caucus sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters said O’Toole told his colleagues that if members voted for him to stay, he would undergo an early leadership review by the membership ahead of the previously set timeline in 2023. His critics have spent months calling on O’Toole and the party’s national council to do that.
After the vote, Conservative MPs thanked O’Toole for his service.
They also said they are ready to move on.
“The caucus has spoken,” Regina MP Michael Kram said on Twitter.
“A leader cannot lead if he does not have the confidence of his caucus colleagues.”
Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus said after the meeting: “I think we are more united than ever.”
Conservative MPs must now choose someone to serve as the party’s interim leader in a vote that is set to take place later Wednesday. Then the party will head into a leadership race for the third time since former prime minister Stephen Harper lost power to the Liberals in 2015.
New Brunswick MP John Williamson threw his hat into the ring to be the party’s interim leader.
“I will respect my caucus colleagues. I will listen to our movement,” he wrote on social media shortly after O’Toole lost the leadership review vote.
“I know how to keep us united around the things that matter most to us as Conservatives.”
The Reform Act, which has been in place since 2015, allows a party’s MPs to trigger a leadership review instead of waiting for the question to be put to the wider membership.
The Conservative caucus is the only one that voted last year to accept the rule as binding.
On Monday night, after news of the coming leadership review came out, O’Toole put out a social media post that painted his dissenters as believing the party should hold more extreme views resembling those of Ontario MPP Randy Hillier and ex-MP Derek Sloan.
O’Toole and his team then started calling different MPs seeking their support.
Before the vote, Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer also shared a statement with caucus from 21 former Conservative MPs, including former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, that called for a new leader.
“Erin O’Toole has not only failed to unite the party, his words and actions in recent days have created greater disunity,” reads the statement obtained by The Canadian Press.
“It is time for him to step aside for the good of the Conservative Party and the nation.”
Former Edmonton MP Kerry Diotte, who lost his in seat the recent election, published his own social media post late Tuesday saying that as a former military man, O’Toole should know when he’s lost the battle.
“The writing is on the wall,” he said in a post of Facebook.
My message to Canadians
Mon message aux Canadiens pic.twitter.com/iRhq76bteB
— Erin O'Toole (@erinotoole) February 2, 2022
Garnett Genuis was among the Conservative MPs who were hoping to oust O’Toole. He expressed confidence Tuesday about the likelihood that they had the numbers.
O’Toole, a 49-year-old Ontario MP, took over the reins of the party in August 2020.
The corporate lawyer and Air Force veteran was first elected in a byelection in 2012 in the riding of Durham, a region his father also represented when he was in provincial politics.
O’Toole served as a cabinet minister for veterans affairs in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before it fell to the Liberals in the 2015 election.
He then put his name forward to be interim leader but lost. He tried again, this time for the party leadership in 2017, but placed third behind Andrew Scheer.
One of the major knocks critics had against O’Toole began after the 2020 race, where he ran as the “true blue” candidate over former cabinet minister Peter MacKay. The former Nova Scotia MP had served as leader of the Progressive Conservative party before it merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the modern Conservative Party of Canada.
Once in power, O’Toole told party members changes were needed if it hoped to make gains in vote-rich regions like the Greater Toronto Area.
In an attempt to modernize the party and differentiate himself from Scheer — whose social conservative views dogged him in the 2019 campaign — O’Toole promoted his support of access to abortion and LGBTQ rights.
He also embraced carbon pricing, despite the fact that some of his MPs, including many in Western Canada, fought for years against the Liberal government’s carbon-pricing mechanism, which the Conservatives called a “carbon tax.”
During the leadership contest, O’Toole pledged that it would be scrapped.
During last year’s election campaign, O’Toole tried to attract more voters by putting a more moderate stamp on the party.
He also raised the ire of firearms activists and social conservatives by reversing course on promises midway through the race that were inked into his platform when he was being attacked by the Liberals.
Critics like Sen. Denise Batters, who last November began petitioning the party to hold an early leadership review, said his flip-flops damaged his image with Canadians and made him untrustworthy.
Others also point out that O’Toole finished with two fewer seats than Scheer did in 2019, and failed to make gains the party needed in major cities and suburbs.
Since his election defeat, O’Toole has struggled to bring his caucus together on issues like vaccine mandates, with many of his MPs feeling the party needed to take a tougher stand against such policies.
He has also faced pressure to more forcefully oppose a controversial secularism law in Quebec and faced pushback from members of the party’s social conservative wing for fast-tracking a government bill to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ Canadians.