By Jonathon Van Maren
So Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is out, evicted by his caucus by a whopping 73 to 45. There have been rumblings for months, and many folks have been organizing for this moment—by the time his leadership ended, O’Toole had alienated virtually every faction in the Conservative coalition with the exception of a few Michelle Rempelesque Red Tories who have long wanted to see the Conservative Party become liberal on every issue that matters. You can alienate some people, but you cannot win by running against your own base and silencing anyone in your caucus who disagrees. At least, not indefinitely.
It is indicative, I think, that the people most upset by O’Toole’s ouster are progressive journalists. The media has been force-feeding us the idea that a Conservative can only win by being a liberal for a half dozen election cycles now, and they badly wanted O’Toole to get another kick at the can. As it stands, the Conservative leader who tried to follow the media’s blueprint for Conservative victory to a tee—cut out the so-cons, abandon the gun owners, adopt the carbon tax, and apologize for/cancel anyone the press or Trudeau calls “fringe”—got fewer votes than Andrew Scheer, who, we were told, lost because he was socially conservative. Maybe we shouldn’t take advice from the media anymore. Just a thought.
Despite his attempt at a dignified parting video, it’s important to remember that the night before, O’Toole’s team were telling the press that the reason his leadership was under fire is because he engineered a motion to make the “conversion therapy ban” Bill C-4 unanimous. In other words, he mourned, he got the boot because he was just too good for Conservative MPs who were concerned by a bill that has made Canada an international cautionary tale for targeting Christians and freedom of speech more generally. Interestingly, the fact that O’Toole’s team decided on this particular tack just proves that O’Toole decided to push the unanimous motion while knowing he did not have the support of his caucus. Even his defences remind us of why he had to go.
Erin O’Toole was a disaster for the Conservative Party of Canada, and his inability to discover or articulate what, if anything, he believed in was the reason that he is no longer the leader. He never really was—his boldest moves consisted of booting out those he disagreed with, not taking a position on any controversial issue. He first lagged behind the convoy, then got out in front of it, and finally got run over. Whatever else the Freedom Convoy accomplishes, O’Toole is certainly their most prominent casualty. Like with so many other issues, by the time he took a public position, his MPs had gotten sick of waiting and had already released their own statements. “There go my people,” O’Toole would say. “And I must follow them, for I am their leader.”
With O’Toole gone, the leadership race will soon begin in earnest. We don’t know who the candidates will be, but it is fairly certain that Pierre Poilievre will be one of them. He is well-spoken; actually defends things; and is willing to engage the media and push back against progressive narratives. His performance surrounding the Convoy has made him something of a hero in some circles. But here I have to remind my fellow social conservatives: Pierre Poilievre is not our guy. While he had a socially conservative voting record early on in his career (can we ban conversion therapy for MPs so they stop transitioning on us?), he has since changed. To give a few examples:
He voted against Bill C-233, Cathay Wagantall’s bill seeking to criminalize sex-selective abortion. It is important to note that an overwhelming majority of Canadians are against this practice, and 84% would have supported this legislation. This is not a “socially conservative issue” so much as a Canadian one.
When he was considering running in the last leadership race, he told the press that he would oppose any pro-life legislation put forward, and that “no such bill would pass under his watch.” In short, he would actively work to stymie the efforts of social conservatives.
Poilievre also supported Trudeau’s “conversion therapy ban” as written—in other words, he was in favor of the most dangerous piece of legislation for Christians passed in this country in decades. He voted for the ban the first time around with Erin O’Toole against the majority of the Conservative caucus–just as he did for Bill C-233. He is a very smart man. He knew what the implications of this law were. But unlike many other MPs, he raised no objections.
My preferred candidate has been well-known to any regular reader of this blog for several years: Dr. Leslyn Lewis. It is, quite frankly, time for the Conservative Party of Canada to get a new look. Lewis nullifies most of the typical slanderous attacks of the Liberals, NDP, and the media (but I repeat myself) about white supremacy et al immediately. She attracted enormous support during the last leadership race, and this is before she held a seat in the House of Commons. She received endorsements from all factions of the party—Red Tories and social conservatives alike, even after she’d made her policy preferences clear.
She clearly defended social conservative principles on TV, refused to be caricatured, and flummoxed the press as a result. She is also adept in media interviews on other matters–give her interview with Andrew Lawton at the Freedom Convoy protest on Parliament Hill a watch as a prime example.
I believe that small-c conservatives who care about the moral fabric of this country as well as economics only have one candidate available who is genuinely capable of shifting the Overton Window and radically changing the conversation, and that is Leslyn Lewis. We had Andrew Scheer. We had Erin O’Toole. It’s time for someone different this time.