It’s been quite the 24 hours in #cdnpoli, but not for the reason why we expected at the start of yesterday. With a move to try to give Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole the boot finally made, the attention of Political Ottawa turned from the “protests” on the street in front of Parliament and looked towards inside West Block. In the time since the news broke, things haven’t settled down and here is a quick bit of some of what happened since I last wrote last night:
With a virtual caucus meeting coming tomorrow (which I’ll come back to in a moment), this will all come to a head, and it appears that everyone is rushing head long towards it. O’Toole isn’t backing down, and is basically telling his detractors to “Bring it”. And for the few Conservative MPs who have already gone on the record with their opposition to his leadership, they are reply “Oh, it’s already been brung”. There have been comments made by O’Toole, and MPs Garnett Genuis and Bob Benzen that are the kinds of statements there is no coming back from. They are serious enough that whoever the winner is in this scenario, the losers will likely have to go. I don’t see how both sides stay put at the table after all of this.
I find it pretty telling that some of the biggest names and most respected members of his caucus haven’t taken a position to say they want to boot O’Toole, but are saying that it should be the members who make that decision, not MPs. MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who would be an interesting and strong candidate if she chose to run, made that statement and it felt like a very reasonable position to take. While that may be a reasonable position, it’s not one that should make O’Toole feel comfortable. It’s not a 100% endorsement of his leadership, but rather is a view that members should be the one to plunge in the knife, not caucus members. It remains to be seen if here are enough caucus members with the view of Rempel Garner to help O’Toole carry the day, but if there is, his team needs to be cognizant that their position isn’t any less precarious if they win.
I’ll also note that the O’Toole response to this whole situation has not been something that would likely inspire confidence or win caucus members over to his side. While his statement last night could be taken as strong, it wasn’t coming from a position of strength and would have gone much further if it had come long ago. I’m sure a few people reading that statement were left thinking “we’re in the Hell has that been all this time?” Sometimes late isn’t better than never, and this is a good example of that.
Beyond that fact, the rest of the response hasn’t really been awe inspiring. We saw the sudden appearance of the “Majority Committee” Twitter account out of nowhere, which looked like and sounded like an Astro-turf campaign in the minds of many. Many people wondered if this was for real, “where has this group been for the last couple months?” O’Toole’s leadership hasn’t been safe now for a while, so if this group is for real, it is really late in the game to suddenly appear. If they think that showing up about 48 hours before a do-or-die vote is going to turn the tide, I think they are mistaken.
Finally the story about O’Toole’s pledges to change if he’s allowed to keep his position are cringy as can be. He has been correctly accused of flipping and flopping all over. Prior to the last leadership campaign, he was known as one guy, tried to be the polar opposite to win the campaign, won it then tried to inch back to who he originally was and ended up pinballing all over the map. Essentially O’Toole’s pledge amounts to saying “Hey, if you don’t like this Erin, or the few other versions I’ve shown you over the past year, I’ve got a few more in the back I can show you if you let me stick around”. To be polite about this, that’s amazingly tone deaf. To be blunter, it shows that either you really don’t understand your problem, or you think that somehow you can keep pulling the same trick and get away with it. Erin O’Toole isn’t a one-trick pony, but with promises like those, I can’t blame people if they think that he is.
But for the time being, all of that doesn’t matter as much. What really matters is what will happen in the Conservative caucus meeting tomorrow morning. It wasn’t lost on me that this meeting will take place on Groundhogs Day, because this is starting to feel alike a bit of a pattern of the Conservatives in the post-Harper era. The fact that this is going to happen in a virtual session is going to add another layer of intrigue into all of this. In normal times, those who wanted to move on the leader would have to eventually come before their caucus colleagues and face them in the same room. They would have to face the leader and essentially confront them, taking all the risks that come with that. And for those caucus members who are thinking of voting to remove the leader, caucus members in the room can put direct pressure on them, either peer pressure or something more forceful. Those are influences that can help a leader hold on, especially if the vote appears to be on the edge, as this one does.
But when you’ve got a virtual meeting, a lot of that pressure goes away. You don’t have to face a soul in the room. You don’t have someone standing over your shoulder. You don’t have the eyes of leaders’ office staff glaring at you, or close by to grab you by the elbow to try to convince you to stay in line. Given that this vote might ultimately be one where a few votes make the difference, not having that dynamic of pressure could be the factor that tips this one way or another. For that reason, I’ll be very curious to see the final tally in this vote & just how close it is.
Tomorrow is going to be a defining day for the conservative movement and Canadian politics, regardless of the result of that vote. Ironically, we may soon find that regardless of who wins the day in this vote, the end result could very well be identical; the fracturing of the united Conservative Party and a return to some kind of pre-Harper/MacKay merger situation. Given everything that’s been said and how this has all played out, I have a hard time this coalition staying together for very long if it survives this week. We’ll all be watching but when this week started, who would have guessed that Erin O’Toole’s removal would come before the removal of those trucks littered across the streets in front of Parliament. Crazy days indeed.