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

Town of Sylvan Lake. File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council approve 2021 budget with no tax increase

Council approved the budget at its regular meeting on Feb. 22

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 11 additional deaths over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Red Deer active COVID-19 cases drop slightly

Province reports 267 additional COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

On Monday, Feb. 22, Island Health listed Glacier View Secondary on 241 Beacher Drive in Courtenay as having a COVID-19 exposure Feb. 17 and 18. Black Press file photo
Red Deer sets new COVID-19 case record

There are now 565 active cases in Red Deer

File Photo
Sylvan Lake’s pay parking program see highest use in summer 2020

Last summer the program logged its highest revenue and parking session in its four years

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls club Pink Shirt day design focuses on kindness

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

The cover of “Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care.” (Submitted)
Ponoka-born author writes history of old mental hospital

“Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care” covers 1911 to 1971

Jacqueline Buffalo. (Photo submitted)
TikTok connects Indigenous women during pandemic

Maskwacis influencers share their stories

Todd Hirsch. (Image: screenshot)
ATB vice president gives financial forecast to Ponoka chamber

Predictions for reopening of the economy and recovery outlined

The 24/7 Integrated Response Hub is currently located in the Wetaskiwin Civic Building. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Wetaskiwin business owners concerned over 24/7 Integrated Hub’s impact downtown

Downtown businesses have had loss of customers, threats, increased property damage and break-ins.

Meteor spotted over Edmonton, Alta., on Feb. 22, 2021 by several, who took to social media to share their surveillance camera captures. (@KixxAxe/Twitter)
VIDEO: Fireball meteor streaks across sky, spotted by early-morning risers in Alberta, B.C.

Videos of the quick streak of light flashing across the sky before 6:30 a.m. MST

Most Read