Canada Conservatives' Erin O'Toole hitting turbulence after six months as party leader
O'Toole calls for relocation of Beijing Olympics due to China's 'genocide' of Uighurs
OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is calling on the government to push for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be moved outside China amid "genocide" against minority Uighurs. “I think Canadians would agree that it would violate fundamental ethical principles to participate in an Olympic Games hosted by a country that is committing a genocide against part of its population," he said Tuesday. O'Toole said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should reach out to the International Olympic Committee to seek to move the games.
OTTAWA — The fight to win the leadership of his party could be nothing compared to what Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has ahead: keeping his party together as he tries to win over voters who haven't voted for it recently.
Caucus morale is buoyed by this week's House of Commons vote in favour of a motion declaring a genocide against Uighur Muslims in China.
But the Tories remain stuck behind the Liberals in the polls and the Liberal war room is revving up to keep them there.
The Tories' hawkish view on China stands as a point of demarcation between O'Toole and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, so while the Tories lauded the vote Monday as a victory for human rights, it's also one for them.
O'Toole calls for relocation of 2022 Olympic Games out of China
The Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are currently scheduled to take place in February 2022. O'Toole said Canada should not be sending its athletes to compete there while the country stands accused of committing "genocide" against Uighurs in Xinjiang province. He also cited the country's actions in Hong Kong and the ongoing detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
That Liberal MPs, but not cabinet, voted with the Tories on the motion underscores the point, O'Toole argued after the vote.
"The fact that Mr. Trudeau did not even show up to be accountable is a terrible sign of leadership," he said.
That he'd take a strong stance on China was a key promise O'Toole made in his bid for leadership last year.
But how he's following through on others is emerging as a question as O'Toole marks exactly six months in the post.
Among the issues: a fear he'll backtrack on a promise dear to the heart of the party, especially in the West: repealing the federal carbon tax.
MPs not authorized to publicly discuss caucus deliberations say many are concerned about O'Toole's stated support for a Liberal bill aimed at cutting Canada's net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050.
Boswell: Erin O'Toole should speak out about Canadian on death row in U.S.
For the first time in 15 years, Montana has a Republican, pro-death-penalty governor; Greg Gianforte was sworn in last month. The state’s House and Senate are also firmly controlled by pro-death-penalty Republicans. Why does this matter to Canada? Because the now rock-solid Republican state is moving quickly to resume executions of death-row prisoners after a 15-year pause — and that puts a Canadian citizen, Ronald Smith, more squarely in the crosshairs of capital punishment than at any time since his bid for clemency sparked a political firestorm in this country in 2007.
Most environment and economics experts say getting there without a carbon tax is possible, but would cost more because the regulations needed to achieve the goal would ultimately be more expensive.
For a party fixated on the bottom line, which path to take without inflaming the base is a tricky choice.
O'Toole's spokesperson says he remains committed to scrapping the federal carbon tax, though O'Toole himself no longer includes it in election-style speeches to general audiences, nor would he repeat the commitment to reporters when asked last week.
Another marquee promise, to defund the CBC, is also in the wind.
Spokesperson Chelsea Tucker didn't directly answer this week when asked if he would still do that if the Conservatives win power.
All outlets need a fair playing field, she said in an email.
"Conservatives are committed to ensuring the best path forward for Canada’s news sector."
Government back in court seeking extension on MAID reform as bill stalls in Commons
OTTAWA — The federal government will be back in court this morning to seek a fourth extension to the court-imposed deadline for expanding access to medical assistance in dying. The government is asking for one more month, until March 26, to pass Bill C-7, which is currently stalled in the House of Commons with no prospect of being passed by Friday — the current deadline. The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision allowing assisted dying only for people whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable.
The promises on the carbon tax and on defunding the CBC were key planks for O'Toole's leadership campaign because he needed the Tory base on side to win.
But as he seeks now to broaden the appeal of the party, many in caucus are expressing frustration with his approach.
Recent meetings have been laced with tension and demands for change, several told The Canadian Press.
Underpinning the grumbling: how kicking controversial MP Derek Sloan out of caucus played out, the appearance of a demotion from the important finance-critic post for wildly popular MP Pierre Poilievre, and frustration over the Conservatives' overarching pitch to the public.
In some instances, MPs have issued their own statements when official lines out of O'Toole's office didn't jibe with their own points of view.
MPs Rachael Harder and Jeremy Patzer publicly lashed out over new Liberal measures restricting travel to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, calling them draconian and an overreach, while O'Toole's office stuck with a call for compassion.
MacDougall: O’Toole needs to spark up a few big ideas, not just wait for Trudeau to slip
What goes up must come down but something coming down doesn’t guarantee something else shooting up. Welcome to the non-Newtonian game facing Conservative leader Erin O’Toole. Justin Trudeau’s ratings might be dropping while vaccines aren’t plunging into arms, but O’Toole’s not rising because of it. At least not yet. Sensing an opportunity, the Conservative Party is using this vaccine-poor moment to take a fresh run at introducing their man to the public, issuing a number of videos highlighting O’Toole’s life and experience. It makes for a nice story and there’s much to like about O’Toole.
Meanwhile, some MPs see focusing on anything but vaccines against COVID-19 a waste of political energy, including the recent vote on China. Others argue that O'Toole's stated focus on jobs — it was the reason Poilievre has a new title as jobs and industry critic, O'Toole says — means little without ideas to advance.
O'Toole's team has partially blamed lacklustre polling on an inability to get out in front of people during the pandemic, and have tried to counter it with ad blitzes.
Those efforts are also aimed at defining O'Toole before the Liberals come up with a narrative of their own.
The two clashed Wednesday. As O'Toole marked six months as leader with a new ad portraying him as a serious worker, the Liberals jumped on a clip from his leadership race where he suggests he wants to put the prime minister in a portable toilet.
O'Toole's office discounted the tactic as another effort by the Liberals to distract from their record, calling on them to focus instead on vaccines.
There are other signs of a disconnect emerging between O'Toole and at least some of his caucus.
One is over an upcoming vote in the House of Commons on a ban on conversion therapy. O'Toole says he is against the practice of forcing those questioning their gender or sexual identities into therapy but it's a free vote for his MPs.
Trudeau's poll numbers took a hit over vaccine delays — but the Liberals escaped the worst
The prime minister's approval ratings have slipped but the Liberals still lead in the polls. And now more vaccines are on their way.Not yet, at any rate. Voting intentions often move after other indicators of voter sentiment start to shift. But with recent announcements about more vaccine shipments arriving soon, the Liberals might avoid taking the hit that was coming their way.
The members of his caucus who oppose the ban are organizing their own strategy sessions to frame their planned votes, work that includes O'Toole's deputy chief of staff.
And the well-organized social-conservative wing of the party is gearing up for the Tories' March policy convention.
The effort includes snapping up delegate spots so rapidly that some party stalwarts didn't get one, raising fears the social conservatives will be mighty enough to get controversial policies passed.
Competition for spaces is a healthy sign, said party spokesman Cory Hann.
"We have had more people interested in our convention than at any time in history, so of course there's going to be competitive delegate-selection meetings right across the country, which just shows how much interest there is in our party," he said.
O'Toole said recently what the polls show today doesn't matter.
"The Conservatives got Canada through the last global recession, better than any other country, without raising taxes. That is what we will do," he said.
"And I think the polls will be on election day when Canadians want to choose that strong future."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Gallant in hot water over questionable allegations .
Pembroke – Once again local MP Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) has found herself in the middle of a very public controversy after a video emerged in which she accused the Liberal government of becoming “radicals” who want “all illicit drugs to be legal” and “to normalize sexual activity with children.” These and other statements made by the longtime Conservative MP are contained in a video that recorded a virtual meeting between the MP and a group of young Conservatives at Queen’s University in Kingston earlier this month.