Canada’s Conservative MPs voted by secret ballot Wednesday to oust their leader Erin O’Toole, amid infighting over the party’s future direction and loss to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in snap elections last year.
Forty-five Tory members of parliament endorsed O’Toole’s leadership, while 73 voted to replace him in the caucus vote, the main opposition party said in a statement.
Wednesday evening, they chose Candice Bergen, an MP from the central province of Manitoba, to be the interim Conservative leader until a permanent replacement is decided at a party convention.
O’Toole’s ouster ends a bitter internal feud over his year-and-a-half tenure and forces a third Conservative leadership race since 2015.
“This afternoon I stepped down as leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada following a vote in our caucus,” O’Toole said in a parting video message.
He also said he would stay on as an MP.
O’Toole, 49, fell out with a section of the party for tracking too much to the political center in the last election.
He has faced a barrage of criticism from colleagues for shifting the party’s positions on carbon pricing, balancing the federal budget and firearms restrictions — sometimes seemingly on the fly.
“This country needs a conservative party that is both an intellectual force and a governing force,” O’Toole said Wednesday in defense of the positions he’d taken.
“Ideology without power is vanity. Seeking power without ideology is hubris.”
He urged partisans and others to “hear the other side, listen to all voices, not just the echoes from your own tribe.”
In parliament, Trudeau — who was participating remotely, as he is in isolation with Covid-19 — thanked O’Toole for his public service.
“There is a lot we do not agree on for the direction of this country, but he stepped up to serve his country and I want to thank him for his sacrifice,” Trudeau said.
The Conservatives won 119 seats out of 338 in the September election, down two from a previous ballot in 2019.
Prior to the caucus vote, O’Toole this week denounced his critics, saying the path they wished to take the party on was “angry, negative and extreme.”
“It is a dead end,” he said, adding that “a winning message is one of inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope.”