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Inside the 48 hours of turmoil
In this edition: the revolt and the big O'Toole vote, Parish out in Ajax, Ministry memo clarifies what school absence means, new COVID-19 projections
Happy Wednesday and TGIFebruary. Welcome to POLICORNER — your insider’s guide to Canadian politics, policy and power. Happy Lunar New Year to everyone who celebrated yesterday.
In this 6 minute read, O’Toole faces a caucus revolt. What led to it and the party’s next steps. Fresh scuttlebutt on possible O’Toole successors. Parish dropped by the NDP in Ajax. Plus, a new Ministry memo outlines the definition of school absence and the latest on the trucker convoy jamming downtown Ottawa.
Erin O'Toole’s leadership of the Conservative Party is being put to the test by his caucus. In a virtual caucus meeting currently underway, party sources confirmed to newsBeyond that MPs will vote on his command of the party and possibly toss him from the Opposition Leader’s Office (OLO).
A letter circulating within party ranks — which called for a leadership review — was signed by a third of the caucus and sent to chair Scott Reid on Monday. The letter was reportedly not known to the OLO until a dissenting member spoke out.
Bob Benzen (Calgary Heritage) — a former ally of the embattled leader — said he was calling for a review, claiming that O'Toole was given “more than enough chances for a course correction to resolve the concerns of many of the grassroots members of our party.” Caucus mate Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan) issued a statement in support of the review hours later.
About two dozen ex-MPs voiced support for O'Toole's removal in a letter shared with caucus members last night. “It is time for him to step aside for the good of the Conservative Party and the nation,” they said.
O'Toole fired back against his dissenters in a late Monday night statement.
“There are two roads open to the Conservative Party of Canada. One is the road of Randy Hillier and Derek Sloan. It is angry, negative, and extreme. It is a dead-end; one that would see the party of Confederation become the NDP of the right. The other road is to better reflect the Canada of 2022. To recognize that conservatism is organic not static and that a winning message is one of inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope. There is a report tonight of members of the Conservative caucus who are unsure of what road to take. They are, it is said, bringing a letter to caucus to trigger a vote on my leadership of the Party.”
“A tactical error” is how one Conservative source described O'Toole’s response. “It will not sit well with people and won’t set the next leader — if there is a next leader — up for success,” the source told newsBeyond.
What led to the revolt? Among the party's caucus members, the source said, there has been growing dissent. The source spoke of a shift among caucus members who are frustrated by the infighting and want to focus on holding the government accountable. Some within the party consider Shannon Stubbs’ toxic workplace allegations — believed to have been leaked by the OLO — as an example.
Another contributing factor: the response to the convoy of truckers in Ottawa. O’Toole told reporters on Monday that it is not for him or a party to “attend a protest on the Hill or a convoy.” By Thursday, he reverted his decision to not meet with those protesting in the city.
Internally, O'Toole has been criticised for “flip-flopping” on policy and some leadership promises, consistent with what Benzen said in his Monday-night statement.
There are mixed feelings. Some believe removing O'Toole will come with challenges — introducing a new leader to Canadians and re-evaluating party policy during a minority Parliament. Others view that there is no path forward for him — selecting a new leader will solve internal conflicts. Members were asked about their support for the leader yesterday. Here’s what some had to say:
What comes next for the Conservative Party
If O'Toole does win, what comes next? That’s the big question. In an open letter to his caucus mates, Benzen said he expects O'Toole will attempt to remove him from the caucus if he wins. A party source suggested the embattled leader may put the question of his leadership to members before the next convention, scheduled for over a year away.
An interim leader will be chosen if O'Toole resigns following the vote.
Deputy leader Candice Bergen and Harper cabinet minister Ed Fast have been widely floated for the job. Stephanie Kusie and Marilyn Gladu are also said to be making calls to members about a possible run for the interim leadership.
Party insiders consider finance critic Pierre Poilievre as a possible leadership candidate and a favourite. Leadership contender-turned-MP Leslyn Lewis and natural resources critic Michelle Rempel Garner may also vie for the top job.
The meeting is taking place virtually due to the protests in the city’s downtown. “I think [meeting virtually] probably doesn't help the leader. It would probably be better if he could do it in person,” a Conservative source said. The result of the leadership vote is expected to be revealed after 11 AM.
SCOOP: The Ministry of Education is providing clarity on how schools should report student absences. In a memo to local school boards, the Ministry says a student isolating and who cannot attend in-person learning should be marked absent for the provincial reporting page, but present for in-school reporting. Students attending online learning in classrooms or schools closed due to COVID-19 will be marked not absent by schools.
The NDP has turfed Steve Parish as the party’s candidate in Ajax for the upcoming provincial vote. In a statement, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the decision to remove Parish was made after consultation with NDP and community members and Jewish leaders.
“The NDP's vetting process gave us confidence that Mr. Parish does not hold antisemtic views. However, our party is committed to naming and correcting injustice, and vowing to do better - and as a candidate he has not met the mark. Specifically, Mr. Parish has not denounced the decision to have a street named after a high-ranking German officer in the Second World War. Perhaps most importantly he has not demonstrated that he understands why that is harmful.”
Ottawa Police says two individuals were arrested in relation to the protests in the city's downtown. One individual was charged with mischief and another was charged with carrying a weapon to a public meeting. The city’s police force says the number of protesters has decreased to 250.
New provincial COVID-19 modelling shows that this phase of the Omicron wave “has plateaued.” The modelling released by the COVID-19 Science Table said the relaxation of public health measures “will increase the spread” of the virus, but warned that the size of a resurgence is difficult to predict. More from the Science Table.
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak has written to Elections Ontario after a total of $42,600 was donated to the PC party by inidivduals “linked to FH Health” — the company which was awarded a “sole-source contract” to run booster clinics for education staff. In a statement to newsBeyond, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the decision to enter into the sole-source agreement with the company “was made and executed by officials at the ministry – not the Solicitor General.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
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CBC NEWS: “Ford government loses appeal to keep ministers' mandate letters secret at Ontario's top court” by Nicole Brockbank
NEW YORK TIMES: “The New York Times Buys Wordle” by Marc Tracy
In the last edition of POLICORNER, we asked when the last major winter storm in Ontario was. The answer: December 19, 2013, when the province was walloped by a major ice storm. More on the storm here.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION: Who told CTV News’ Evan Solomon: “can you imagine what our party could do — instead of training our guns against one another — we unified and held the Liberals to account. That's what went through my head when I heard what you just read to me.” Know the answer? Send us your answers or reply to this email.
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