OTTAWA—Erin O’Toole moved to eject his one-time leadership rival Derek Sloan from the Conservative caucus Monday night, following the revelation that Sloan had accepted a donation from a person O’Toole described as a “white supremacist.”
Already under pressure by the governing Liberals and others to disavow far-right populism, O’Toole said he would take the steps necessary to remove the Ontario MP from his caucus.
The Conservative leader made the move after Press Progress, a left-wing current affairs website, reported that Paul Fromm — whom O’Toole called “a well-known white supremacist” — had donated $131 to Sloan’s Conservative leadership bid.
Sloan has already been nominated to run again as the party’s candidate in the riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington.
He said Monday his leadership team processed the donation from Fromm without recognizing his name among thousands of other donors.
“We had over 13,000 donations and obviously I did not closely scrutinize the donor names,” Sloan wrote on social media. “When the problematic donation was brought to my attention, I immediately asked (the Conservative Party) Executive Director to refund the donation.”
“This came from left field,” said a source close to Sloan late Monday night.
The source said that O’Toole’s move came as a complete surprise. As of Monday night, it appeared that Sloan would fight to stay in the Conservative caucus. The outcome will be decided by a vote of his caucus colleagues, which could present a test of O’Toole’s leadership.
The revelation about Sloan comes at a time when the Conservative party is attempting to fend off accusations that it is little more than a Canadian version of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican party.
O’Toole said Monday night that “as leader of Canada’s Conservatives, I will not allow Mr. Sloan to run as a candidate for our party” in the next election, which political watchers expect to come soon.
“Derek Sloan’s acceptance of a donation from a well-known white supremacist is far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence,” O’Toole said in written statement.
“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.”
Bernie Farber, the head of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, described Fromm as “the longest-standing white supremacist, neo-Nazi in Canadian history.”
“Fromm has been around since 1968,” Farber said. “It’s just not imaginable that anyone in government wouldn’t know who he is.”
The revelation comes as O’Toole’s inner circle feels “under fire” amid a string of comparisons to Trump, and one senior adviser feels the time has come for a “reckoning.”
O’Toole issued his strongest statement yet on the issue Sunday morning, distancing himself from “far right” extremists after the governing Liberals attempted to link the Conservative party to Trump’s Republicans following this month’s storming of the U.S. Capitol Building.
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Conservative sources told the Star that some within the party were unsettled by the comparisons.
“A sustained, consistent effort,” is how one source, speaking on the condition they not be named, described the amplification of those suggestions on social media.
Amid warnings of violence in U.S. capitals this week, Canadian Conservatives are anxious to avoid any comparison to the Republicans and extremist groups.
“If the Liberals want to label me as ‘far right,’ they are welcome to try,” O’Toole said in a written statement Sunday.
“Canadians are smart and they will see this as an attempt to mislead people and import some of the fear and division we have witnessed in the United States.”
Prior to the revelation about Sloan, there was already an acknowledgment among those close to O’Toole that the Conservative leader needed to do more to distance himself from the more extreme elements of his party’s base.
O’Toole came under criticism last week for his office’s dealings with the Rebel, a far-right website that trucks in conspiracy theories and race-baiting.
The Rebel’s “exclusive” interview with O’Toole turned out to be emailed stock statements from a spokesperson, but the timing of the article’s release — just days after pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol building — was not missed by the Liberals.
A Conservative source said the party will make a “concerted effort” to get O’Toole out in front of cameras again, anxious to change the channel.
A second source said that while the party is not making any drastic moves, there has been a frustration that — like Andrew Scheer before him — O’Toole is allowing himself to be painted as a northern version of Trump.
There are “holes to fill” and “changes to be made” within the Conservatives’ organization, one source said.
The source’s comment was an acknowledgment that all is not well within the party’s organization. Despite the Conservatives’ fundraising prowess, the party’s rigid message discipline, and O’Toole’s consistent efforts to keep the Conservatives’ western branch tied to the federal party, the party remains divided.
The Liberals have exploited those divisions, fundraising off allegations that O’Toole was importing Trump-style politics to Canada, pointing to images on social media of Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen in one of Trump’s Make America Great Again hats and playing up O’Toole’s connections to groups like Canada Proud.
But a Liberal source said the party risks overplaying its hand by deploying the same kind of divisive politics it professes to deplore.
With files from the Canadian Press
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
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