MP Says O’Toole Must Have a Plan to Win Back Conservative Voters as He Meets Caucus

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
October 5, 2021 Updated: October 5, 2021

OTTAWA—A western Conservative MP who lost votes in the party’s disappointing election defeat two weeks ago says leader Erin O’Toole must provide a full accounting of how he plans to win back the trust of some supporters.

Shannon Stubbs represents the rural Alberta riding of Lakeland, and says she had 15 percent fewer votes cast in her name this election compared with 2019.

She says she’s not happy with how the party lost incumbent MPs in large cities across the country, including in Alberta, a Conservative heartland.

Stubbs was one of 119 Conservative MPs gathered in Ottawa on Tuesday behind closed doors to decide, among other things, whether they want the power to review O’Toole’s leadership.

She says the party’s grassroots members should also get to have their own review of O’Toole within six months instead of waiting until a scheduled one in 2023.

Stubbs believes some of her vote was lost because O’Toole was unclear on policy positions including banning certain types of firearms and his promise to keep spending billions.

“I believe there needs to be an accounting on how it is that we are going to maintain Conservative voters, maintain confidence among Conservative voters and supporters,” she said before entering the caucus meeting.

“The reality is that today, after the 2021 election, Conservatives are more rural, more homogeneous than we’ve ever been before. And we lost great, strong, necessary colleagues in big cities in every part of this country.”

Heading into the meeting himself, O’Toole said he believes he has the caucus support to stay on as leader and that he has spent the past two weeks reaching out to them to discuss the election.

Under legislation passed in 2015, each party’s caucus is required to decide after an election whether it wants to empower its members to trigger a leadership review, which requires a written notice backed by at least 20 percent of caucus.

The rule also allows MPs to elect their own caucus chair and make decisions about whether someone should be expelled from the fold.

O’Toole said he’s always supported these legislative provisions.

Conservatives finished the Sept. 20 election with two fewer seats than they won in 2019 under former leader Andrew Scheer, who resigned as leader under intense pressure shortly after the federal election.

O’Toole’s team also lost five incumbents who were people of colour and failed to make hoped-for gains in key battlegrounds of the Greater Toronto Area, Metro Vancouver and Quebec.

During the campaign, O’Toole made the unusual move of adding a footnote to his election platform promise to repeal a Liberal ban on so-called assault-style rifles that covers some 1,500 types of firearms. He ultimately decided to maintain the ban—despite party policy stating otherwise—and instead subject it to a review.

Even before entering the campaign, O’Toole’s move to put a more moderate stamp on the party in hopes of gaining more seats in Quebec and Ontario left some in the Conservative movement, particularly those living in its western heartland, feeling less than impressed.

A member of the party’s national council from Ontario has already launched an online petition to collect signatures from Conservatives who feel O’Toole has betrayed the party’s core values and want to vote on his leadership earlier than the currently scheduled review in 2023.

“It’s not surprising that many mainstream media types are telling Conservatives that we should just be happy with our second-place finish in last week’s election,” re-elected British Columbia Conservative MP Mark Strahl recently tweeted.

“Second place is exactly where they want us to be. Conservative members expect (first) and will never be satisfied with (second).”

While concerns are being voiced about the party’s election performance, O’Toole argues that, under his leadership, Conservatives grew their share of the vote in Ontario and Quebec by three and four percentage points, respectively.

“That means the party has already become more competitive over the past year, and we are now within striking distance—the seats come after the increase in vote share,” he said in a recent party fundraising email.

O’Toole also touted the fact that the party gained a handful of seats in Atlantic Canada, came within 2,000 votes in some 30 ridings and now boasts a younger caucus, with more women and LGBTQ representation.

Some of his MPs, such as newly elected Ontario representative Leslyn Lewis, a favourite among the party’s grassroots and social conservatives in last year’s leadership race, have taken to social media to say he deserves to be spared the same fate as Scheer.

Others are lining up to say the last thing the party needs in another minority Parliament is to find itself starting from scratch by launching a new leadership contest.

“As leader, however, I know when we don’t win an election, we need to ask ourselves why. I plan to do just that,” O’Toole said in the fundraising pitch.

He has pledged to hold a review of the election loss, but has yet to announce what the scope will be and who will lead the post-mortem.

By Stephanie Taylor