Now that the Conservative Leadership campaign is in the rear view, folks are looking ahead to things still to come in Canadian politics. We have a Throne Speech coming in a month which could be followed by a general election during a global pandemic, although the odds of that election happening remain very, very low. Going into the fall every political party in the House have outstanding questions to be answered and when those answers come, they will all play their own parts in the political theatre to come.

For the Conservatives coming out of their leadership campaign, they have more questions than most and honestly, that makes sense. There are always changes that come with a new leader beyond the leader themselves. There are new staff, new policies and new directions that come with a new leader, all of which sends messages and raise questions of their own. And while today new Conservative leader Erin O’Toole announced some of the new staff joining him on this new job, some legitimate questions are being asked about the fate of someone else of note currently sitting in the Conservative caucus; what to do with Derek Sloan?

After finishing dead last in the Conservative leadership race, Sloan now returns to the life of being a normal MP. The problem here for O’Toole and the Conservative caucus is that Sloan didn’t just run a bad campaign, he said and did so many offensive things that many Conservatives in his own caucus were calling for him to be tossed. O’Toole himself spoke out against some of Sloan’s more offensive statements and positions during the campaign.

In the normal course of things, someone who ran in a leadership contest could expect a prime role in the party under the new leaders’ guidance. But as I pointed out yesterday, thanks to his statements, positions and approach, Sloan should be the exception to that rule. That’s left an important open question that Mr. O’Toole will need to address; what exactly to do with Sloan? Unsurprisingly Sloan himself has a view on this, which he shared with the Kingston Whig-Standard, and it’s nothing if not unsurprising:

“I expect to be an integral member of Erin O’Toole’s team.” Hmm, given everything that happened in that race, that’s an expectation that would seem to be completely out of place to most Canadians. Yet here we are, the first test of O’Toole and his leadership. Given that a decision of this nature says a lot about the direction that the Conservatives may take under his leadership, it’s understandable that many others out there are wondering what O’Toole might do. That would obviously include other parties and MPs in the House of Commons, like the following:

That statement from Liberal MP Pam Damoff lays out the O’Toole dilemma very well. He says that he always supports people’s rights. O’Toole said in his first press conference today that the “always votes in favour of rights”, despite the clear fact and record that he constantly voted against Indigenous rights and particularly against UNDRIP legislation. I guess in his eyes some rights are more “rightier” than others, but I guess that’s a point that he forgot. But even if we were to give O’Toole the most charitable benefit of the doubt, we could say that if he kept Sloan in his caucus it would be very hard to say those claims of his were true. If he were as true to the sentiments that he espoused in his press conference today, surely removing Derek Sloan from his caucus would be a way to show it, right? Well O’Toole got the obvious question that he had to know was coming about this topic and the answer he gave was notable:

Hmmm, that sounds like quite the non-answer doesn’t it? It’s notable that O’Toole hasn’t spoken to Sloan yet but beyond that, it’s even more notable that he didn’t have more to say about Sloan’s comments or his future in the party. He surely didn’t try to publicly disabuse Sloan of his expectations of being “an integral member of O’Toole’s team”. For all his talk about “always supporting people’s rights”, in his first attempt to prove that as leader he refused to take a firm stand or make a clear statement. Instead he ducked the question, gave some bromides and left the important question unanswered. The only difference between that answer and one that Andrew Scheer would have given was that it was said with an indoor voice in a more respectful tone. Yes, that’s an improvement but that’s hardly satisfactory.

If Erin O’Toole and his team have learned anything from watching the disaster that was Andrew Scheer’s leadership it should have been that giving clear, direct and unequivocal answers to straight questions stops stories from taking on a life of their own. Scheer’s refusal to answer simple questions directly gave them life for weeks on end, ensuring that they grew and sank his leadership. There were many satisfactory answers that O’Toole could have given when asked the open question he had to know was coming about Sloan. What he gave today, talking about party unity, was not one of them. I don’t think that most people expected an answer today to if Sloan would be gone or not, but he could have said something akin to “I need to talk to him then I will let you know”. Instead he gave a signal that nothing would happen.

We’ll see what O’Toole will do with this open question, but he and his team shouldn’t be surprised if his opponents and the media keep asking these legitimate questions about Sloan’s future in his party. Not only was O’Toole noncommittal and evasive on his answer, Sloan is walking around like he’s the belle of the ball acting like he’s about to get a big promotion. To give that to Sloan would send a terrible signal to Canadians and would also tell them that despite all of his promises to be a different leader, O’Toole would be repeating all of Andrew Scheer’s mistakes all over again in a nicer tone. That won’t fly with the public if he’s not clear on that now, it will be soon enough if he continues down that path.