A petition launched by Conservative Senator Denise Batters calling for a review of Erin O’Toole’s leadership within six months prompted frustration within CPC ranks yesterday, with thrice-elected MP Ron Liepert calling it grounds for her expulsion from the party’s Upper Chamber caucus.

Speaking to Parliament Today, Liepert struck a candid tone in reaction to the petition (which was deemed “not in order” with the constitution by party president Rob Batherson), saying Batters “does not represent, in my view, any more than her own opinion.”

“I trust that the leader in the Senate will deal with her as he should,” said Liepert, referencing Conservative Senator Don Plett, who’s been the Opposition head honcho since 2019. “If it is appropriate for the party’s national council to suspend a member for doing something similar, I believe it is appropriate that she receives the same treatment from her Senate colleagues.” (Plett could not be reached in time for publication.)

Batters ruffled several blue feathers yesterday after tweeting her plea to fellow Tories to sign an online document for O’Toole to be subjected to a leadership review within six months — an idea that Alberta CPC MP Shannon Stubbs said she supported last month.

Coming off the election, Stubbs said the captain’s push to the centre appeared to abandon the base and was difficult for her to contend with at the doorstep. (Stubbs was left out of the shadow cabinet last week, despite having a critic role during the last Parliament.)

“He reversed core policies without input from members and caucus, then lost [the election] by every measure,” said Batters, echoing concerns that O’Toole ran as a “true blue” leader before pivoting to the centre. She linked to a webpage that indicated five per cent of Conservative members in five provinces need to lend their names within 90 days to the document for it to succeed.

But just hours after she launched that effort, Batherson wrote in a letter that her petition is out of bounds because the party constitution allows for a “leadership selection process” to be triggered only if a leader dies, retires or steps away from the posting, or if more than half of the delegates at a party convention vote in favour of a new election. The next convention is set to take place in 2023, but that has not stopped Batters, who backed Peter MacKay in last summer’s leadership race that O’Toole won, from pushing the petition.

Per CTV, Batters appeared undeterred by Batherson’s letter, saying her intent is to ask for a “referendum of the members,” not for the “leadership selection process to commence.” Her website asks people to respond to whether they want to have a “confidence vote” on O’Toole’s leadership by June 30, 2022.

A screenshot from a video posted to Twitter by Senator Denise Batters on Monday calling for a review of Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s leadership.

Other CPC MPs decry ongoing distractions from O’Toole dissenters

The petition came two days before the Tories’ Wednesday caucus meeting and less than a week before Parliament returns next Monday. Liepert, who predicted Batters would be punted from caucus by the time the meeting rolls around, said it would be “an extremely uncomfortable time” if she still carried the flag at that point.

“She is doing this solo. I cannot think of one other caucus member who would support her in this initiative,” said Liepert. “So to me, if you’re one out of 130 that thinks differently, then there’s no place for you within our caucus.” (Per the Senate webpage, there are 18 Conservative Senators, which together with 119 MPs, makes 137.)

Liepert’s remarks appeared to contradict Global News’ reporting that Batters’ effort appeared to be part of a “multi-step campaign,” with one unnamed Tory MP saying the process would “unfold over the next three months, really over the next six months.”

Liepert, who is not a part of O’Toole’s shadow cabinet, maintained there is nearly “100 per cent buy-in within caucus” of a “gameplan” to hold the Liberal government to account. “It’s not going to affect us, but you keep getting these goofy one-offs,” he said.

High-profile Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, in an “open message” video addressed to Batters posted to her Facebook, said she’s been “working all week” to respond to announcements involving the energy sector and news around inflation.

Urging the Senator to withdraw her petition, a frustrated Rempel Garner added that while “differences” and “vigorous policy debates” within caucus can persist, “this open warfare that’s happening right now” is serving as a distraction, much to the Liberals’ glee.

“This clears my day from being able to stand up with my constituents. It’s going to fill the news tonight with your petition as opposed to my, ‘Trying to hold Justin Trudeau to account to get my community back to work,’” said Rempel Garner. “I am just so frustrated with this because we have to get it together. We’re the Opposition and Trudeau right now … he gets a free ride today.”

A ‘stupid and self-defeating’ move, says Tory strategist

Veteran Conservative strategist Geoff Norquay, now with Earnscliffe, said given Hill whispers have persisted for months around O’Toole’s leadership, the petition was not “surprising,” but it was “disappointing.”

“She’s aiming at the wrong target. She should be aiming at members of the party, both in caucus and in the Senate, whose views will always sink a moderate Conservative Party,” said Norquay, calling those members “off base” with O’Toole’s explicit goal to usher in a new era of conservatism.

While he called the petition a “stupid and self-defeating” effort as it “holds the party up to ridicule,” he said it sparked renewed questions of whether O’Toole should “take his case to the party” by giving in to a leadership review. “Take the dissidents on and beat them at their own game,” Norquay suggested, urging O’Toole to consider “fighting it out” as those who oppose his tenure “are not going to rest until they damage or bring him down.”

Veteran Conservative strategist Garry Keller of StrategyCorp said it was “ironic” an unelected Senator was calling into question an elected captain’s leadership. He urged those “behind” the effort to publicly put their name to it, but said caucus meetings likely already show who wants to put O’Toole “on notice.”

“The only people who benefit from this are the Liberals,” he said, dismissing those behind the campaign to oust O’Toole as having “nothing but time on their hands.”

Asked about the development during a press conference on Monday, Trudeau declined to comment, only noting that in contrast, “the federal Liberals have never been so united.”