OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he wants Ontario MP Derek Sloan kicked out of the party caucus over a donation to his leadership campaign from a white supremacist.
In a statement Monday evening, O’Toole said accepting the contribution is “far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence” by his former leadership rival.
It’s up to Conservative MPs whether to eject Sloan from their number, but O’Toole said he’ll use his power as party leader to ban him from running as a Tory in the next election.
“Racism is a disease of the soul, repugnant to our core values. It has no place in our country. It has no place in the Conservative Party of Canada. I won’t tolerate it,” O’Toole said in the statement, issued less than three hours after word of Sloan’s donation emerged.
Sloan has already been nominated to run again as the party’s candidate in the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington.
He said Monday his leadership team processed the $131 donation from Paul Fromm without recognizing his name among thousands of other donors.
Fromm has been a fixture in right-wing politics for decades, including participating in events with the neo-Nazi Heritage Front.
Sloan said when he learned about the donation Monday afternoon, following a report by the website PressProgress, he contacted the Conservative party and asked that Fromm’s money be returned.
During the leadership race, Sloan was accused of racism for comments he made about the country’s chief public health officer and a move was launched within caucus to expel him.
At the time, O’Toole stood up for him and shut down the efforts to get him removed.
The leader’s move Monday came the day after he’d issued a statement saying there’s no room for right-wing extremism in the party he leads _ and as moderate and more rock-ribbed elements in the party prepare for a showdown at a policy convention scheduled for March.
O’Toole’s statement laid out steps he’s personally taken to showcase a party that bears zero resemblance to the right-wing extremism on display in the United States in the aftermath of the presidential election.
With the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden this week, and the potential for renewed violence in the U.S., a line needed to be drawn that the party doesn’t tolerate the “far right,” O’Toole’s office said.
But when asked what that would mean in practice, or for the convention, his staff didn’t answer.
For example, his office said last week it will no longer grant interviews to the provocative right-wing organization The Rebel, but wouldn’t say whether that ban would extend to all. At least one MP has granted them an interview since then.
The Rebel took a direct swipe Monday at O’Toole, accusing him of ignoring the base of the party.
“Hey (Erin O’Toole),” wrote The Rebel’s Keean Bexte in response to an O’Toole tweet about American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
“I know you are busy virtue signalling about a foreign activist from the last century — but right now in your country, gun owners (your base — for now) are in court fighting tooth and nail to stop that politician you’re paid to oppose.”
The people who form the base of the party, which does include gun-rights advocates, are also those who will show up in force at the convention.
It’s a venue where O’Toole can set the tone, said former party strategist Tim Powers. “He’s going to want to use that to showcase modernity.”
Issues so far advanced for potential debate include medical assistance in dying, religious freedoms, the rights of parents to raise their kids free of government or institutional interference and ending the use of most temporary foreign workers.
A concerted effort to register delegates is also being made by those seeking to delete the party’s official line that a Conservative government would not support any legislation to regulate abortion.
“Sick of hearing Conservative politicians say they ‘won’t reopen the abortion debate?’ Then change it,” the group Right Now told its supporters.
“Register to become a delegate at the upcoming online policy convention and vote to remove that line from the policy handbook.”
O’Toole’s leadership victory was strongly tied to the supporters of two other candidates in the contest: Leslyn Lewis, and Sloan himself.
Their committed backers were social conservatives who ultimately handed O’Toole his win, and O’Toole’s desire for their support was understood to be one reason he’d pushed back against the earlier attempt to kick Sloan out of caucus.
Earlier this month, Sloan reached out to his own supporters, urging them to sign up for the convention.
“We need as many truly ‘conservative’ delegates to participate as possible. The more ‘conservative’ delegates who participate, the more success we will have in making the (Conservative Party of Canada) into a truly conservative party,” Sloan wrote in an email to his supporters.
At the 2018 convention, social conservatives lost their bid to remove the party’s policy on abortion. They say if they could have marshalled just 106 more delegates, it would have passed.
Party leaders don’t normally have transparent control over what policy resolutions go up for debate. It’s a complicated system that includes member votes, regional representation and the ultimate green-light by party officials.
But previous Conservative leaders have been accused of placing pressure on those officials to structure debates such that time runs out before certain ideas can be discussed.
Those allegations saw O’Toole promise during his leadership bid that all ideas that make it to the convention will have a chance to be heard and voted on.
“Let’s embrace our grassroots, not run from it,” he said in his platform.
Whether he stands by that pledge is unclear. His office directed questions on the subject to the party, which did not immediately return a request for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021.
— with files from Lee Berthiaume