The leader of Canada’s opposition Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole, has been removed from his post after a majority vote by Conservative legislators.
Seventy-three Conservative MPs voted on Wednesday to remove O’Toole as the head of the party, the chair of the Conservative caucus, Scott Reid, said in a brief statement, while 45 voted to keep him on.
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O’Toole, who has led the Conservatives since 2020, had angered some politicians by trying to move the party closer to the centre and disavowing some policies that its voter base holds dear, including on guns and climate change.
That internal party pressure increased after the Conservatives lost the most recent federal election in September to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who have been in government since 2015.
“It was an honour of a lifetime” to lead the Conservatives, O’Toole said in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, pledging his “support and unwavering loyalty” to the next leader.
“And I urge everyone in our party to come together and do the same,” he said, adding that he would remain in parliament, where he represents an electoral riding east of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.
O’Toole will be replaced by an interim leader later on Wednesday after another Conservative caucus vote, Canadian broadcaster CBC News reported.
The development is potentially good news for Trudeau, who has now seen off four Conservative leaders and can govern while his main rivals are focused on succession issues. No date for a leadership convention has been set.
“The lack of contrition and humility from Mr O’Toole and how he conducted himself after the election … is ultimately what did him in. There was no plan for how they were going to do things better,” said Jamie Ellerton, a conservative strategist and principal at Conaptus, a public relations firm.
After news broke earlier this week that dozens of Conservative MPs had signed a letter asking for a vote on O’Toole’s leadership, he tweeted late on Monday that “there are two roads open to the Conservative Party of Canada”.
The party could either be “angry, negative, and extreme”, O’Toole wrote, or “better reflect the Canada of 2022”.
“I’m not going anywhere and I’m not turning back. Canada needs us to be united and serious! It’s time for a reckoning. To settle this in caucus. Right here. Right now. Once and for all. Anger vs. Optimism. That is the choice in simple terms,” he wrote.
The vote came as a divisive protest continued in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, where a group of anti-vaccine truckers and their supporters have been railing against a vaccine mandate for cross-border travel to the US, as well as other coronavirus restrictions in Canada.
O’Toole defended his decision to meet with the leaders of the so-called “Freedom Convoy”, while denouncing “anybody promoting violence” within the group. Experts had pointed out that known, far-right activists were among the convoy organisers.
“The thousands of people coming here in the next few days – the trucker convoy – is a symbol of the fatigue in our country right now,” O’Toole told reporters last Thursday. He later disavowed some protest participants who had desecrated memorials in Ottawa during the weekend.
It remains unclear who the next likely leader of the federal Conservatives will be.
Pierre Poilievre, an Ottawa-area member of parliament, is among several names that have been floated as possibly being in the running to take over from O’Toole. Poilievre, a favourite of the right-wing, strongly backed the truckers’ protest.