(Ottawa) Following Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s decision to expel an MP from his caucus, factions of the Conservative movement in Canada are questioning their own future in the party.
Among them: some gun advocates, who say they are concerned about what the move could mean for their members who backed Mr. O’Toole in last year’s leadership race, in part due to his promises to defend their cause.
Ontario MP Derek Sloan was fired last week for what O’Toole called a “pattern of destructive behavior” that was hurting the team.
During his short period as a socially Tory MP and leadership contestant, Mr Sloan’s extreme views sparked controversy, and Mr O’Toole said the last straw had been Mr. Sloan had accepted a donation from a known supremacist.
But the decision to fire him was seen by some of his supporters as a response to Mr Sloan’s efforts to influence the Tories’ convention, scheduled for March, through motions that could in turn hamper Mr. O’Toole to broaden the appeal of the party.
In an interview with The Canadian Press last week, Mr. O’Toole denied that his decision was a direct response to the social conservatives’ attempt to become the dominant force in Congress.
Although he started the process to expel Mr. Sloan, Mr. O’Toole noted that the decision was made by Conservative MPs, by vote.
Several, including some who would identify themselves as socially conservative, had expressed frustration since last year’s leadership race that Mr. Sloan’s views on the rights of members of the LGBTQ community and other issues can hurt the party in a general election.
If the social conservatives are seen as the most organized faction in the party, the community of gun owners comes in second.
Charles Zach, executive director of the Canadian Firearms Association, said he had no specific comment on Mr Sloan’s situation.
But he added that Mr. O’Toole’s decision raised concerns: If he’s ready to dismiss Mr. Sloan, what about gun enthusiasts?
“If this is how the next CCP election campaign will be conducted, yes, we fear that our expectations are not on the agenda,” he said.
“And where does that leave us?” ”
Just as Mr. O’Toole courted conservative social members during the leadership race, he also sought the support of gun advocates.
In doing so, he leveraged his time in the military and a personal connection – his campaign manager was Fred DeLorey, who for a time was a lobbyist for the Canadian Firearms Association. Mr. DeLorey is now responsible for leading the party’s next general election campaign.
Mr. O’Toole’s effort to woo gun advocates in Quebec would have helped him achieve victory, as party members in the province have enormous influence over the points-based voting system used by the Conservative party.
The national gun debate is generally seen as pitting the concerns of rural hunters and farmers, who see guns as an essential part of their lives, against city dwellers who only think of guns in the context of criminality.
Conservatives need these urban voters to form a majority, and crafting a gun policy that doesn’t scare them off while appeasing the grassroots could be a challenge for Mr. O’Toole, Zach suggested.