Conservatives react with praise, pessimism to vote ending Erin O'Toole's leadership

Conservative luminaries weighed in Wednesday after the federal party's caucus voted to fire Erin O'Toole as party leader, setting up a leadership race.

A majority of MPs voted to remove O'Toole as leader after just 18 months at the helm

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

Conservative luminaries weighed in Wednesday after the federal party's caucus voted to fire Erin O'Toole as party leader, setting up a leadership race.

Caucus is expected to choose an interim leader later today. MPs Tom Kmiec and John Williamson have both put their names forward for that job already.

Current and former Conservative MPs had mixed reactions to today's caucus vote, which saw 73 MPs cast their ballots to oust O'Toole while 45 chose to support him. Many began by thanking O'Toole and his family for their service to the party and the country.

"He's a friend. He's someone who's served our country well over the years," said MP Ed Fast.

"Even though today we're entering a new era for the party, a fresh start, let's all acknowledge today is a really tough day for Erin and his family."

Conservative House leader Gérard Deltell described O'Toole as "determined, generous with his time, always with a positive and constructive approach."

Lisa Raitt, a former deputy leader and cabinet minister, said she was surprised by the one-sided nature of the vote result. She said it left "no room for Mr. O'Toole to say that he wants to take this issue to the membership."

Raitt said it's clear that caucus was no longer willing to wait for an already scheduled membership review.

WATCH: Conservative MPs remove Erin O'Toole as leader in secret ballot vote:

Conservative MPs remove Erin O'Toole as leader in secret ballot vote

7 months ago
Duration 2:59
The CBC's Travis Dhanraj speaks to Rosemary Barton about the news that Erin O'Toole has been removed as leader of the Conservative Party.

"They gave him time and he didn't convince them, so out he goes," she told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

O'Toole sought to bring the Conservative Party closer to the political centre during the recent federal election. Raitt said she did not think his defeat would damage that effort.

"I think it was the person today. It wasn't rejecting the wholesale vision of what it looks like to [for example] agree that you have to have some sort of carbon pricing," she said.

WATCH: Party leaders comment on O'Toole ouster:

Party leaders pay tribute to Erin O'Toole after caucus vote on his removal

7 months ago
Duration 0:48
During question period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet acknowledged Erin O'Toole's time as Conservative Party leader following a caucus vote to remove him from his position.

Garnett Genuis was one of the MPs spearheading the effort to remove O'Toole. He downplayed the potential for disagreements over policy during the upcoming leadership race.

"There are certainly issues on which from time to time there are different opinions, but it can be quite fluid ..." he told reporters outside of the House of Commons Wednesday.

"There are many significant and challenging, complex issues that face this country and I remain extremely optimistic about the future of the Conservative Party of Canada."

Former cabinet minister Tony Clement took a more pessimistic view, saying the party was "far from being ready to govern."

O'Toole's failure to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the recent election appears to have been a key factor for those who supported his ouster.

"Personally, I really have a lot of respect for [O'Toole]. I think he's a man of integrity," said conservative strategist Jason Lietaer. "But I think the last 10 days of the last election campaign, I think a lot of Conservatives might have looked back and said he sort of waned and wilted."

Monte Solberg, a former Conservative cabinet minister, told Barton he sympathized with the challenges O'Toole faced during his time as head of the party.

"Stephen Harper once said the worst job he ever had was being leader of the Opposition. I get it, especially in a conservative party," he said. O'Toole's failure to make gains in the election was a critical factor in the vote, he added.

"More than anything else, people want to see progress toward success," Solberg said.

Jamie Ellerton is a former political operative who, in 2019, penned an op-ed with MP Melissa Lantsman arguing that the party needs to be more progressive on LGBTQ issues. He argued that today's events offer a good sign for democratic institutions.

He also said O'Toole might have been able to save his job if he had acted differently in the post-election period.

"I think if he would have taken more personal accountability for how the last election went, and had a very clear framework as to how he was going to make decisions forward ... I don't think he'd be in the position he is today," Ellerton told Barton.

MP Matt Jeneroux pointed to O'Toole's shifting policy positions to explain his own vote to remove him from the leadership.

"I don't think a lot of Canadians knew where we were, so I think a lot of the flip-flopping on issues led to that lack of trust from Canadians," he said Wednesday.

Several key advocacy groups praised caucus for choosing to remove O'Toole. Scott Hayward, president of the anti-abortion group RightNow, said O'Toole's leadership was weighed down by numerous issues — including the ejection of MP Derek Sloan from caucus and "the flip-flop on the carbon tax."

"We have been working with caucus members, national councillors and members of the party since the federal election to remove Erin O'Toole as leader, whether it was via the Reform Act or through other means of the party's constitution," Hayward said.

"O'Toole has time and again betrayed the party's socially conservative base with his support for abortion, LGBT ideology, oppressive lockdowns, and liberty-destroying passports for abortion-tainted vaccines," said Jeff Gunnarson, president of the anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition.

Sen. Denise Batters, who was removed from the national Conservative caucus after challenging O'Toole leadership, congratulated the MPs who led the effort.

"Now we move forward together, unified in our resolve to demand better for Canadians," she said in a tweet.

Wednesday's events got at least one interested reaction from outside Canada.

A U.S.-based radio host named Erin O'Toole — who has long been mistaken by Twitter users for her Conservative namesake — chimed in with her response.

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