Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends decision to back, then oust, Sloan

O’Toole said he’s aware people have ‘trust issues’ with his party

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he was once willing to give his former leadership rival Derek Sloan the benefit of the doubt, but no longer.

And he dismissed the idea that kicking Sloan out of caucus this week has pitted him against one of the party’s most powerful wings, social conservatives, whose support O’Toole courted directly during the leadership race last year in part by backing Sloan at the time.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, O’Toole said he didn’t believe Sloan meant to be racist last year in his characterization of chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

That’s why he opposed efforts then to kick him out of caucus, O’Toole said.

“I always will give a colleague, or anyone in Parliament, in public life, the benefit of the doubt or, you know, listen to them the first time,” O’Toole said.

“And that was the case early on with Derek, when he said he did not mean to malign the intentions of Dr. Tam.”

But O’Toole said a “pattern developed” since then, and frustrations mounted that Sloan’s extreme views posed an ever-present danger to the party’s goal of forming government.

It all appeared to come to a head last week.

In the aftermath of riots in the U.S. led by extreme right wing supporters of now-former U.S. president Donald Trump, O’Toole faced pressure from caucus, conservative supporters and his rivals to firmly disavow any elements of extremism in his party’s ranks.

Last Sunday, O’Toole issued a statement doing just that. The next day, media organization PressProgress reported O’Toole’s outrage over Sloan’s leadership campaign accepting a donation from a known white nationalist.

While O’Toole moved swiftly to start the process of kicking Sloan out — getting 20 per cent of MPs on side as required by law — he insisted the demand was driven by caucus, as evidenced in the majority vote to remove him.

“The caucus was ready to make that decision and send a strong message that we are a welcoming party, we respect one another, and we respect Canadians,” he said.

O’Toole disputed accusations from Sloan and anti-abortion groups that the decision to kick him out had nothing to do with the Ontario MP’s previous statements.

In recent weeks, Sloan has been pushing to get as many socially conservative delegates as possible registered for the party’s policy convention in March.

Sloan, as well as the Campaign Life Coalition and RightNow, want enough delegates in their camp so motions they support will pass, including one that would remove the existing policy stating a Conservative government would never regulate abortion.

They also want to elect a slate of directors to the party’s national council to entrench their strength.

Sloan said the decision to kick him out was a kneejerk reaction to what happened in the U.S.

But he also contends the move was driven by anger from his fellow MP’s unhappy to se him actively courting money and support in their ridings. He’s pledged to name them so social conservatives know who is trying to silence their voices, he said.

“They think they are little petty princes ruling these fiefdoms and no one else can have a say,” Sloan said.

O’Toole rejected the idea that Sloan’s efforts amount to an attempt to take over the party, and O’Toole’s own move was a bid to stop it.

“There is no such effort to the extent that Mr. Sloan is suggesting,” he said.

Sloan had little national profile when he entered the Conservative leadership race just a few months after becoming an MP.

But early on, he garnered attention for suggesting he wasn’t certain of the scientific basis for a person being LGBTQ.

From there, he quickly became well known for his often extreme social conservative views. His comments about Tam, in which he suggested her loyalty lay with China rather than Canada, sparked outrage and took criticism against him to the next level.

Last spring, in discussing the Liberal government’s pandemic response and Tam’s use of suspect World Health Organization data from China, Sloan provocatively asked whether Tam was working for Canada or China.

Tam was born in Hong Kong. Questioning someone’s loyalty is considered a racist trope.

Sloan denied he was being racist. Still, a number of Ontario MPs — some who were supporters of leadership contender and longtime Conservative Peter MacKay — began an effort to have him removed from caucus.

O’Toole shut it down, for reasons he wouldn’t divulge then, but to observers, it smacked of politics.

READ MORE: Conservative MP Derek Sloan ejected from party caucus

MacKay was running a progressive campaign. O’Toole’s was aimed at the more centre right, while Sloan and Leslyn Lewis were targeting the socially conservative right.

With Sloan gone, his backers would have more likely gone to Lewis, splitting the vote on the right between her and O’Toole, giving MacKay a path to victory.

Except O’Toole backed Sloan, and would later take out social media ads hyping his decision. It was one of several steps he took to directly court Sloan’s supporters, and when it came to voting time, they would ultimately help put O’Toole over the top to beat MacKay.

The way the race played out has led to questions for O’Toole ever since about how he’d balance the demands of the social conservative wing of the party with his stated intent to broaden its overall appeal.

O’Toole said he’s aware people have “trust issues” with his party, suggesting social media contributes to the issue and noting he must break that online bubble if he hopes to see his party win.

“The Prime Minister has to try and bring the country together: the diversity of its people, its geography, its industries, and the points of view and backgrounds of everyone,” he said of the office he hopes to hold.

“No one ever said it’s easy.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Conservative Party of Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The emergency department at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., in July 2020. (Black Press Media)
Peace Arch Hospital Foundation reaches $12 million goal

New operating suites to open this fall

Peace Arch Hospital Foundation executive director Stephanie Beck speaks at a 2017 groundbreaking ceremony. In March 2020, she announced the Rapid Response Grant Program, aimed at providing financial assistance during the pandemic. (File photo)
Peace Arch Hospital Foundation launches youth program

Youth in Action designed for students who want to make an impact in their community

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Surrey RCMP asking for dash-cam video of ‘suspicious incident’

Incident involves a newer model Toyota Rav 4 SUV

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

The Kimber family of Boston Bar lost their home in a fire. Blaine Kimber’s daughter created a fundraiser to help rebuild the home with the goal of $100,000. (Screenshot/GoFundMe)
Fundraiser created for Boston Bar family that lost everything in weekend fire

Witnesses say the Kimber family escaped the fire without injury, but their home is a total loss

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read