Conservative party leader makes MP Derek Sloan a convenient scapegoat

If Erin O'Toole is serious about getting rid of extremists in the party, then the bloodletting has just begun

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      Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole has moved to remove MP Derek Sloan, the enfant terrible of the party’s social conservative wing, from the caucus. 

      O’Toole also announced in a statement released on January 18 that Sloan would not be allowed to run as a candidate for the party in the next election. 

      The decision comes after it was revealed that Sloan accepted a donation from Paul Fromm during his leadership bid. 

      Fromm, a former Mississauga high school teacher and self-described free speech advocate, also has a long history of cavorting with white supremacist groups.

      Back in the mid-'90s, he was a sort of éminence grise for the far-right movement, appearing at Heritage Front rallies and caught on video at a party celebrating Hitler’s birthday. He lost his teaching job over that.

      He’s operated on the political fringes ever since, pushing anti-immigrant causes and finding himself in the news more recently for reportedly availing himself of pandemic relief money. (The Canadian Association of Free Expression he heads is registered as a non-profit.)

      O’Toole didn’t hold back in a statement announcing Sloan’s removal. 

      He described Sloan’s acceptance of the donation from Fromm as “far more than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence”,

      But for those who have been watching the Conservative leader, Sloan’s ouster carries the whiff of political opportunism. 

      Truth is, O’Toole cast himself as the “True Blue” Conservative during his leadership bid and has been trying to ingratiate himself to fringe elements in the party ever since he took over. It’s been embarrassing to watch.

      Recent polls show the tack hasn’t been working. The Conservative Party has slid in public opinion polls by some six points behind the Liberals in recent weeks. And the pressure on O’Toole to beat back questions about extremist elements and Make American Great Again Trumpeteers in the party has only increased since the siege on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks back. 

      On Sunday, the CPC leader took the unusual step of releasing a lengthy statement saying the party “welcomes all Canadians, regardless of race, religion, economic standing, education or sexual orientation”.

      But O’Toole’s statement was more a defence than a repudiation of far-right elements in the party. More recently, that’s shown itself in claims by Conservative party operatives that the Libs are already “rigging” the next election.  

      Some notable Conservative commentators have since publicly urged O’Toole to rid himself of “Trumpists” in the party’s ranks—among them, Stephen Harper’s former communications director Andrew MacDougall.  

      But O’Toole has himself adopted the Trumpian language of the far-right, railing against “cancel culture,” fuelling suggestions that the Liberal government’s pandemic response is part of a socialist “Great Reset” and pulling out the dog whistle on China and the coronavirus every chance he gets. In between, O’Toole has downplayed Canada’s residential schools shame and described as “stupid” the efforts of activists pushing for the removal of the statue of one of its architects, Egerton Ryerson.

      Indeed, Sloan has been in hot water before, and each time O’Toole has defended him for fear of angering the social conservatives in the party’s base.

      There was the racially tinged criticism of Canada’s chief medical officer of health, Theresa Tam, over her handling of the coronavirus during the Conservative leadership campaign. More recently, the Hastings MP tabled a petition in the House on behalf of a well-known anti-vaxxer questioning the science of coronavirus vaccines. O’Toole called that a product of Liberal “failings”. Before that, there was the Conservative party’s adoption “in principle” of a Liberal bill outlawing conversion therapy. Sloan was among seven Conservative MPs to vote against it.

      What’s changed? 

      Clearly, the CPC’s electoral fortunes. O’Toole’s hyper-partisan politics of the personal has fallen flat on most Canadians.

      Sloan, for his part, plans to fight his removal. He says Fromm’s donation was one of some 13,000 contributions to his campaign. And that he notified the party and promptly returned the donation once he found out who it was from. Here too, it’s worth noting that Fromm’s donation to Sloan’s campaign appeared under his nom de plume, Frederick P. Fromm. Sloan also offered in his defence that Fromm has been a member of the party for many years.

      True enough. If O’Toole is at all serious about being the “pragmatic” and “principled” conservative he claims, then the bloodletting of fringe elements in the party has just begun.