This also demonstrates that O’Toole’s threats against potential critics are based upon his position of weakness, rather than strength.
Erin O’Toole is attempting to consolidate his position as the CPC continues to fracture following relentless policy reversals and an attempt to push the party into a ‘Liberal-lite’ frame.
O’Toole appears to be caught in a vicious cycle, where his abandonment of principle generates internal opposition among conservatives, which leads him to tighten his grip over the party even further, which then generates more opposition, and so on.
The issue is that the party appears increasingly split between two groups:
The first group, which we can call the O’Toole Loyalists, believe being a loyal Conservative means being loyal to the Conservative Party leader. They believe that loyalty doesn’t need to be based upon principle or Conservative values, but rather upon serving the person who has the right title. In a way, we can call this loyalty to the highest rung of the CPC leadership structure.
The second group, which we can call the Principled Conservatives, believe being a loyal Conservative means being loyal to Conservative ideas such as limited government, personal freedom, and balanced budgets. They believe that loyalty doesn’t need to be based upon loyalty to the leader, but rather upon serving a set of values. In a way, we can call this loyalty to the idea that ‘Conservative’ means something.
These two groups are diametrically opposed, and each thing one group does further angers the other.
For example, the more the O’Toole Loyalists demand that Conservatives stop criticizing the parties shift away from Conservative principles, the more the Principled Conservatives want O’Toole gone. Each side increasingly sees the other as disloyal, and as helping the Liberals.
The O’Toole Loyalists think the eruption of dissent makes Trudeau’s life easier, while the Principled Conservatives think O’Toole’s weakness and shift towards the Liberals validates Trudeau’s worldview and makes Trudeau’s life easier.
Had O’Toole won the most seats and defeated the Liberals, the O’Toole Loyalists would be in the ascendancy, since they would have success to back up their shift away from Conservatism. But of course, that’s not how it went.
The CPC declined in the popular vote, lost about 450,000 overall votes, lost a few seats, and once again failed to form government, or even come close to forming government in terms of the seat count.
Additionally, with the Liberals and NDP appearing likely to form either a formal or informal cooperation agreement to avoid an election for the next 2 or 3 years, O’Toole’s claim that the CPC needs ‘leadership stability’ due to a possible imminent election sounds much more hollow.
This has put O’Toole in a situation where his authority – in the reputational sense of the term – has taken a severe hit.
He has hemorrhaged trust through his policy shifts – particularly the carbon tax deception – and failed to translate those policy shifts into any tangible successes.
Thus, O’Toole is operating from a weakened position, and his recent moves to consolidate his control over the CPC demonstrate that.
Pushback against removal of Senator Batters
This has generated quite an interesting situation following his decision to remove Senator Denise Batters from the Conservative National Caucus.
O’Toole has no authority to remove Batters as a Senator, only to define whether she is a part of the overall CPC Caucus, which includes both Conservative MPs and Senators.
Yet, in what is a sign of O’Toole’s precarious position, the Conservative Senate Caucus has chosen to keep Batters in the fold:
“Conservative senators have chosen to keep Batters in their fold, notwithstanding party leader Erin O’Toole’s decision Tuesday to kick her out of the national caucus after she challenged his leadership.
Karine Leroux, spokeswoman for Conservative Senate leader Don Plett, confirmed Thursday that “Sen. Batters is still a current member of the Senate Conservative Caucus.”
She declined to elaborate, saying that “would encroach on caucus confidentiality.”
The decision to keep Batters in their caucus suggests Conservative senators are defying O’Toole, who warned Wednesday that anyone supporting her attempt to force an early confidence vote on his leadership would be kicked out of national caucus for not being a team player.
When former leader Andrew Scheer kicked Sen. Lynn Beyak out of the national caucus in 2018, the Conservative Senate caucus immediately followed suit.”
Since they don’t have to run in elections, Senators have far less to lose from party leadership threatening their status. By contrast, MPs know that their chance of getting elected as an independent is almost nil, as being stripped of party funding and having an ideologically similar opponent on the ballot is a serious challenge.
This gives Senators more room to defy their party leadership, which is exactly what we are seeing.
Notably, O’Toole loyalists had indicated they had about 70 CPC MPs who were committed to removing those who criticized O’Toole, leaving many unaccounted for. It seems many CPC Senators can be added to those who are unwilling to entrench O’Toole’s rule-by-fear tactics.
This goes to show that abandoning principles and deceiving party members comes with a significant political cost, and punishing those who point out that cost doesn’t make the underlying reality go away.
A good independent streak
It is great to see CPC Senators refusing to acquiesce to O’Toole.
Respect as a leader is earned through success, and through a mix of strength and willingness to acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility.
Strength isn’t simply booting out anyone who pushes back, or demanding that your colleagues threaten the positions of others to maintain their roles.
In our highly centralized political system, independent thinking has been so heavily constrained that party leaders act with dictatorial power within their organizations, something that should be antithetical to the idea of Canada as a free and democratic nation.
Thus, it is highly ironic that the Conservatives within the elitist, unelected Senate have set a positive example by keeping Denise Batters within the fold.
Canada needs more of this, in all parties, in order to ensure that the centralized authoritarian nature of our political parties begins to change.