O’Toole versus the grassroots: Conservative leader finds himself divided from base
Other critics have pointed to O’Toole’s embrace of carbon pricing as an example of the leader departing from Conservative orthodoxy.
OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole insists the Conservative caucus is united behind his leadership.
But can he be as confident about the party’s grassroots?
The reaction from a handful of third-party organizations, which represent swaths of the Conservative faithful, suggests the answer is likely a no.
“If they keep throwing their base under the bus, there’s not going to be anyone on the bus,” said Sheldon Clare, president and CEO of the National Firearms Association, adding that he remains a Conservative member for “right now.”
Gun owners and their advocates were among those O’Toole courted both times he ran for party leadership, first in 2017 and again last year, when he was successful.
Clare says the community reacted with shock, anger and disgust during the September federal election campaign when O’Toole backtracked on his promise to repeal the Liberals’ ban on some 1,500 types of “assault-style” firearms. Facing attacks from the Liberals, O’Toole announced he’d subject the matter to a review — even inserting a footnote into the online version of his platform.
Clare says unhappiness among supporters and gun owners has intensified since the election, given that no further explanation or clarification has been provided about “a solid policy statement that became flipped, almost on a whim.”
“I’ve heard endless concern about the direction of the Conservative Party,” echoed Rod Giltaca, CEO and executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights.
“Whether it’s a viable option for gun owners and other people that believe in property rights or basic human rights.”
What path the Conservatives decide to tread next as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enters his third mandate is at the heart of a new campaign launched by the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a group once led by a young Stephen Harper, before his time as Conservative leader and later prime minister.
The campaign emphasizes the need to get back to promoting “conservative values,” such as freedom and less government.
“If you’re going to be Liberal-lite, people are going to vote for the real Liberals,” said NCC President Peter Coleman.
Other critics have pointed to O’Toole’s embrace of carbon pricing and his plan to continue running up massive deficits for a decade as examples of the leader departing from Conservative orthodoxy.
The critics included a member of the party’s national council, who was suspended by colleagues after spearheading an online petition for O’Toole to be recalled as party leader and for members to be able to vote on his leadership earlier than scheduled in 2023.
Some of the most vocally opposed to O’Toole come from the social conservative wing of the party, a well-organized group he made a concerted effort win over during the leadership campaign.