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Erin O’Toole’s leadership may have become irretrievable

Erin O’Toole became leader of the Conservative Party on August 24, 2020. It looks like he won’t be celebrating his second birthday.

The divisions that emerged last week between him and his caucus chief rival, Pierre Poilievre, over the unnecessary convoy of truckers to Ottawa may have become unbridgeable. The convoy cost and brought in a lot of money – all for nothing, because the US bans unvaccinated drivers from crossing bordertoo much.

But O’Toole’s shambolic media event on Thursday night, where he once again turned around to announce he would meet the convoy of truckers, may have sealed his fate. He came just a few hours after a scathing report to caucus on the gaffes of the 2021 campaign, and what he described as his problems appearing “authentic” in the eyes of Canadian voters.

Make no mistake: according to several party insiders, it was former Albertan Poilievre, the party’s finance critic, who carefully greased the slippages under his leader. Poilievre chose not to seek leadership last time around, insiders say, for “personal” reasons. He seems to have decided those reasons no longer apply and has been cultivating allies to undermine O’Toole’s leadership for months.

The Conservative caucus clearly ordered O’Toole to ignore the humiliating attacks on him and ordered him to meet with trucker representatives. Some of the organizers are Islamophobic, anti-Semitic white supremacists. Probably not wise for a leader who admitted the party’s problems with the “new Canadians”, as he delicately called them.

Unlike his rival, Erin O’Toole is decent, tolerant and thoughtful – if not tough enough to be a successful political leader. These are not the personal values ​​required to lead the party of cholerics that the conservatives have become. Incredibly, former leader Andrew Scheer called Justin Trudeau this week “the greatest threat to freedom” in Canada. Under intense media questioning, O’Toole declined to denounce such language.

O’Toole’s efforts to push the party into the mainstream of Canadian politics failed due to his inability to wield a credible stick. His failure to expose Poilievre and Scheer signaled to treacherous MPs that they need not fear reprisals. This is untenable for a leader looking to stare at his internal rivals — it cannot be overstated how brutal the retribution of a Jean Chretien or a Brian Mulroney would have been in the face of such impertinence.

Internal rebels would be well advised to think about what they want. A Tory party led by Poilievre would likely do worse than any leader since Kim Campbell. Liberals and New Democrats will be drooling over a contest with him for the support of the vast majority of Canadians who live in cities – people who believe in vaccinations and racial and social inclusion, and who don’t see political venom as the Trumpian driver of their policy choices. To confuse angry prairie voters, anti-vax truckers and western separatists as the basis of a national political party is simply illusory.

The 60,000 bewildered donors who contributed nearly $7 million to the convoy this week are troubling. The violent rhetoric of truckers against the Prime Minister, journalists and non-white Canadians is very disturbing. But even though their supporters across Canada number in the tens of thousands more, together they represent a tiny fraction of Canadian voters.

Next week’s Conservative Party caucus meeting will be at least awkward and more likely worrisome for O’Toole’s future. If violence erupted on the Hill this weekend, the Tories will own it. If none of the party’s saner internal leaders rise up and thunderously denounce those who attack O’Toole’s leadership, the clock will begin to turn for a sad but inevitable exit. So far, they’ve shown little common sense in challenging the Poilievre faction.

If this ends as it increasingly looks, the rebels will regret the day they overthrew another conservative leader. The heir apparent will not only fail to lead them to the promised land of the Tories, but he will lead many others who have joined the conspiracy with him.

Robin V. Sears served as an NDP strategist for 20 years and later served as a communications advisor to businesses and governments on three continents. He is a freelance columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robinvsears