Kenney voices support for O'Toole as Alberta Conservative MPs weigh in on fate of federal leadership

Alberta Conservative MPs are weighing the future of party leader Erin O'Toole, but they're split on whether he should continue in that role.

Numerous Alberta-based members of parliament comment on the impending vote on Conservative leader's future

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole leaves a news conference, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Premier Jason Kenney expressed support for embattled federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole on Tuesday, encouraging the party to keep its "political fire" trained on the federal government.

This week at least 35 anti-O'Toole MPs signed a letter to the caucus chair to trigger a review of his leadership. A vote by 50 per cent plus one of the 119 sitting Conservative MPs would force him to make way for an interim leader immediately. That vote could happen as early as Wednesday.

Kenney, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister, told reporters that, in the long run, he doesn't think it makes sense to change leaders after every election, adding that stability and continuity are also important conservative principles. 

"I think what the public expects is for the opposition to hold the government to account," Kenney said is response to a question about the anticipated vote on O'Toole's leadership.

"And so I would encourage my friends as much as possible to keep their their political fire trained on the government and to remember whatever differences they may have, those differences pale in comparison to the differences they have with the with the governing party."

Kenney further cautioned Conservative MPs to be patient with one another, and not say things they might end up regretting later down the road.

His comments come as the premier also faces criticism within his own United Conservative party, with a leadership review to be held in Red Deer in April. 

But asked by a reporter if he'd consider the leadership of the federal Conservative party if the position was vacant, Kenney said no.

"I am so completely focused on these incredibly huge challenges we're facing right now," he said. "That's not of any interest to me."

Meanwhile, Alberta Conservative MPs weighing O'Toole's future as party leader appear split on what should happen next.

Several Alberta-based members say the pervasive internal disputes must be addressed, while others assigned blame to a specific faction of caucus. 

"My constituents sent me to Ottawa to work hard for them; To address the soaring cost of living, a broken health care system, lost jobs, and more — not to participate in party infighting that weakens our ability to hold the Liberals to account," Michelle Rempel Garner, who represents Calgary Nose Hill, told CBC News in a statement. 

"I will be voting against an immediate months-long leadership race and for Mr. O'Toole tomorrow, and why I support allowing our party members to drive the bus on a leadership review at our next convention per standing practice of our party.

In a statement Monday night, O'Toole said he has no plans to step down.

"I'm not going anywhere and I'm not turning back," he said in a Facebook post. "Canada needs us to be united and serious."

Many MPs indicated the brawling sends the wrong signal to voters across the country. 

"Something obviously needs to change as we can't continue to go down this path. We owe it to Canadians to put forward a strong opposition party that holds this government to account. I'm planning to head into tomorrow's caucus meeting to strongly express these sentiments — which I've heard from many in our community," Edmonton Riverbend MP Matt Jeneroux said. 

Those pushing for O'Toole's ouster told CBC News, on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal party matters, they believe they have the votes to get rid of him.

'The leader has some thinking to do,' one MP says

Calgary Signal Hill's MP blamed the division on supporters of previous party leader Andrew Scheer, who lost the 2019 election and resigned shortly after. Ron Liepert says O'Toole has his support and deserves to stay. 

"You've got a bunch of angry Scheerites out there, that's the problem," he said Tuesday.

But one of his colleagues says O'Toole needs to examine his own actions. 

"I think that perhaps the leader has some thinking to do," Michael Cooper from St. Albert–Edmonton said, raising the issue that about 30 per cent of the Conservative caucus has called on the leader to "effectively resign."

Tim Uppal, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods, says he thinks O'Toole has the mettle to survive the vote. 

"We're having a family issue and we'll get through this," he told reporters Tuesday.

Bob Benzen, who represents the riding of Calgary Heritage, was one of the first to speak publicly. 

"O'Toole wants to divide this caucus and this party, not unite it," he wrote in an updated statement on Tuesday. 

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I expect that if Mr. O'Toole squeaks out a victory, he will attempt to remove me from caucus. So be it — the Conservative Party and the conservative movement are much bigger than any one person."

Tom Kmiec, who represents Calgary Shepard, says it's too early to be discussing interim leaders. 

O'Toole says the party is at a crossroads with this leadership vote. 

Conservative MPs have a choice between "two roads" in the upcoming caucus ballots, he said. One is "angry, negative and extreme," while the other will take the party in a more modern direction with an embrace of "inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope."

With files from JP Tasker


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