This is a big week for Erin O’Toole, and how he handles it will determine the future of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
At noon on Tuesday, O’Toole’s top campaign advisors will give a presentation at a private conservative club in Toronto. The event is billed as a “post-election debrief,” where “campaign insiders… share their insights on the campaign and where the party goes from here.”
It will be interesting — and telling — to see how the men running O’Toole’s campaign will frame the election.
Will they show contrition, recognizing the party’s failures in running a Liberal-lite campaign, and pledge to be connected with the party’s grassroots?
Or will they double down on the tone of O’Toole’s election night speech, where he emphasized how progressive the party had become and acted as though he had somehow won the campaign?
Those on the fence about O’Toole’s leadership will be paying close attention.
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, all incoming and outgoing Conservative MPs will meet for the first time since the election. MPs and CPC insiders I’ve spoken to say it will be a no-holds-barred rumble for the heart and soul of the party.
The first caucus meeting following a losing election is not exactly a happy occasion.
Following the 2019 campaign, this meeting digressed into a seven hour airing of grievances where Conservative MPs voiced their frustration over losing the campaign to Justin Trudeau.
“It was horrible,” one long-serving MP told me. “Angry MPs (mostly from the Red Tory “socially liberal” branch of the party) picked apart every little mistake Andrew Scheer made on the campaign and let him hear about it.”
That same MP told me he doesn’t think it will be “a brawl” this time around.
“Erin is so good at personal connections and maintaining good relationships with MPs and Senators,” the MP said. “He’s the type of guy who knows everyone’s kids’ names and everyone’s birthdays. He sends hand-written letters and really cares about people. He’s just a really nice guy.”
Not everyone in the caucus shares this rosy view of O’Toole.
I’m told by CPC insiders that the Conservative caucus is split into three distinct groups.
First are the Erin O’Toole supporters, people who either share his vision for a more progressive party or those who are in positions of power in the party and want to hold onto it.
The second corner of the party, I’m told, is fuming mad. These MPs feel betrayed by O’Toole who once swore up and down that he opposed carbon taxes and pledged to fight against them, only to introduce his own version of the tax after becoming party leader. Most MPs didn’t learn about this carbon proposal until O’Toole announced his plan to the media.
Also in this corner are those who believe that former leader Andrew Scheer was stabbed in the back and treated unfairly following the 2019 election. These MPs, mostly from the West, think it’s only fair that O’Toole be subject to the same scrutiny and criticism.
Finally, the third and largest group of Conservative MPs are those in the middle. Some believe that O’Toole made strategic mistakes, others say he moved too far to the left, but generally, these MPs are concerned about the integrity of the party and don’t want to go through the drama of another leadership race.
They don’t want to rock the boat.
It’s these MPs who will determine the future of the party.
Tuesday’s caucus meeting will also feature a vote on the party’s Reform Act — written by Conservative MP Michael Chong. This would give caucus the power to call a leadership review, paving the way to possibly oust O’Toole at a later date.
If O’Toole wants to stay on as the Conservative Leader, he needs to not only prove it to caucus this week but also make it up to the base — many of whom feel abandoned and betrayed.