Mike Harris and other conservatives call on party to give Erin O’Toole a chance

OTTAWA—Conservatives of past and present are emerging to voice support for beleaguered federal party leader Erin O’Toole as he seeks to fend off calls for his resignation over his party’s failure to to make gains in Monday’s election.

Former Ontario PC Premier Mike Harris, as well as a slew of current MPs, say they are proud of O’Toole and while there does need to be discussions about what worked and what didn’t in this election, his leadership was not the problem.

“The best thing the Conservative Party of Canada can do is work hard over the next period of time to help him develop a credible, conservative platform that focuses on the issues Canadians care about, including fiscal responsibility,” said Harris, who was premier from 1995-2002, in an op-ed.

“Then, unite behind a proven campaigner who can and should be our next prime minister.”

Preliminary results show the Conservatives are on track to emerge from the election with 119 seats, down two from their total in the 2019 campaign.

While they did pick up some seats they’d previously held in Atlantic Canada, they’ve lost ridings in Ontario, B.C. and even in Alberta, the party’s heartland.

Being shut out from urban centres after O’Toole pledged his centrist platform would help win those very voters has infuriated many members of the party who see him as having betrayed the fundamental values of what it means to be conservative in pursuit of support that never materialized.

Among them is one of the party’s national councillors, Bert Chen, who launched a petition aimed at forcing a referendum on O’Toole’s leadership.

His efforts have been slammed as divisive by some in the party’s caucus, but come after three days of much grousing about O’Toole’s future, by everyone from sitting and defeated MPs, grassroots campaigners and longtime strategists and observers.

Whether the referendum Chen wants to launch will happen is still to be decided. Even if he gets the required number of signatures, the party’s constitution gives the Conservatives’ 19-member national council, of which Chen is a member, the final say.

The constitution also contains a provision for a leadership review at the party’s next convention following an election where the Conservatives don’t form government. The next convention is scheduled for 2023.

But what will come first is a meeting of O’Toole with his MPs where they will have to decide whether they’d like to launch a leadership review of their own, a power they have under a piece of legislation designed to give MPs more say in the management of their caucus.

The MPs who have emerged to back O’Toole in the last two days, represent some of the party’s more senior voices, including deputy leader Candice Bergen and Alberta MP Garnett Genuis.

“Conservatives should stay united, defend our principles, and remain focused on giving Canadians better government. We must learn the lessons of the election, share constructive feedback, and remain united behind @erinotoole,” he wrote on Twitter.

Also appearing to unite behind O’Toole are members of the Quebec caucus, a tight-knit group within the broader blue tent.

Gerard Deltell, who served as the party’s house leader in the last Parliament, pointed out that under O’Toole the party’s vote share in Quebec grew when compared to 2019.

“More than ever, Erin is the man for the job,” he wrote, one of several Quebec MPs to voice a similar sentiment.

While it is true the party won more voters in Quebec than the last campaign, their seat total remained the same, a problem that plagued them throughout the country.

Michael Chong, the MP for Wellington-Halton Hills who spurred on the legislation that allows MPs a say in their leadership, tweeted he was proud to run in the election under O’Toole.

“We’ve laid the groundwork for victory.”

But, other long-time Tories say too much ground was given up to the Liberals.

“It was when our party leader started to waffle on some of the policies that we had brought forward and hadn’t been clear that I believe that Canadians became uncertain and unwilling to continue to look to our party as an alternative,” Conservative MP Chris Warkentin (Grande Prairie-Mackenzie) told the Town and Country News.

“I believe that that was the beginning of polls shifting back in favour of the Liberals.”


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