If Erin O’Toole were serious about making the Conservative Party of Canada a less congenial place for the far right, he would have kicked out Derek Sloan weeks ago for his odious xenophobia, homophobia and racist online commentary.
O’Toole was picked to replace the desperately awful Andrew Scheer last summer after the debacle of the October 2019 election, in which Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed to hang onto power after a string of excruciating embarrassments that, after considering the most likely alternative, many Canadians chose to hold their noses and overlook.
As should now be obvious to all, along with COVID-19 the Trump virus has spread to the Canadian conservative movement and the symptoms include bigotry, xenophobia, division, and growing distrust of democratic rule owing to its inability to deliver consistent ballot-box victories for the authoritarian right.
Indeed, Sloan’s candidacy in the same leadership race from which O’Toole emerged victorious is evidence of this malaise within Conservative Party ranks. And while the MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington came last and was swiftly bumped after the first ballot, he obviously has significant appeal to far-right conservatives who have ingested a little too much Q with their breakfast Shreddies.
Alas for O’Toole, who clearly recognizes the Conservative Party is going to have to somehow broaden its base or go the way of the Whigs and Social Credit, dealing with someone like Sloan is not as easy as it should be because the man is emblematic of a certain disorder within the Conservative Party.
Sloan’s appeal within Conservative ranks despite his poor showing in the balloting shouldn’t be underestimated in those parts of the country like Alberta where O’Toole’s strength may speak more to the organization of the party establishment and the presence of a certain former prime minister than to widespread opposition to the MP’s execrable ideas.
Nor is O’Toole entirely free of a whiff of this odour — “take back Canada,” indeed!
The appeal of this stuff within Conservative ranks, obviously, is why O’Toole feared listening to repeated calls from outside the party to simply banish Sloan for holding views repugnant to the vast majority of Canadians.
So the revelation that Sloan had accepted a donation from a notorious neo-Nazi must have seemed like a godsend to the newish Conservative leader, an unexpected opportunity to deal with the problem before it metastasizes but without having to risk offending considerable numbers of the party’s core supporters.
Having missed whatever honeymoon a mere opposition leader can expect with voters, due to COVID and the instructive spectacle of the unravelling Trump presidency south of the Medicine Line, O’Toole is obviously looking for a way to reverse his party’s slide toward traditional NDP territory in the polls.
Indeed, if this keeps up, Canada could end up with two third parties and no second party — almost as bad as the days when it had three, the Reform Party, the NDP and the Bloc.
How unfortunate for O’Toole, then, that it has now been discovered that the party he leads also accepted donations from the same neo-Nazi they’re about to frog-march Sloan out the door for taking money from.
This is almost as excruciating as Trudeau in blackface, and absent the weak excuse of the poor judgment associated with youth.
Already Conservative political columnists are springing to Sloan’s defence on the grounds the party ought not to punish him for doing what it does itself. Some of them are pretending they’d never even heard of the donor at the centre of the controversy.
They sure seem much more reluctant to ponder what this tells us about the state of the Americanized, Republicanized Conservative Party of Canada.
This will not likely work out well for O’Toole, whether or not he manages to placate Sloan’s many supporters in the party and the punditocracy.
Most Canadians, one suspects, will conclude that with or without Sloan, O’Toole’s still-Trumpified party is a poisoned chalice, from which they are wise not to imbibe.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image credit: Erin O’Toole/Facebook