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Conservatives must be professional, show they are an alternative to Trudeau: O'Toole


OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole and his caucus put on a show of solidarity Wednesday, exactly a week after he had to explain why he dumped a senator for publicly denouncing his leadership. 

Ahead of the Tories' caucus meeting,O'Toole was presented with a hockey jersey that British Columbia MP Bob Zimmer said came from MPs "to our captain."

Before that, MPs chanted O'Toole's name after listening to a speech that touched on favourite Tory themes, namely, their fierce opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his "ideological cabinet," which O'Toole repeated was threatening Canada's unity. 

He accused the Liberals of wanting to shut down industries, and told MPs — many of whom hail from Western Canada and rural ridings — Conservatives were going to be the voices for farmers, energy and autoworkers, as well as families struggling to afford the cost of living. 

"Canadians need a professional, ethical and experienced Conservative team to hold this tired Liberal government to account and provide Canadians with a clear alternative," he told the room. 

His speech came amid calls for his leadership to be put to the test after losing the election, and departing from the "true blue" Conservative image he presented to win over members to secure the party's top spot. 

Sen. Denise Batters, a party stalwart, announced last week she was collecting signatures from members in hopes the petition would force O'Toole to undergo a leadership review within the next six months instead of waiting until 2023. 

O'Toole kicked her out, but she still remains a member of the Conservative Senate caucus, suggesting senators didn't want to follow his lead.

An email blast sent to supporters of Batters' petition last Friday said "nearly 5,000 of you" had so far endorsed the effort, and asked for help circulating it. 

At the time her petition was announced, the senator said there were also MPs who backed her position. Since her expulsion, however, no one else in caucus has publicized their support for O'Toole's leadership to be reviewed. 

He has warned anyone who does will be booted from caucus, and his team believes it has the backing of a majority of MPs to make that happen through a caucus vote that would be required. 

Besides facing leadership questions, O'Toole is also still dealing with questions over how many of his members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and how many have medical exemptions, details he refuses to release. 

Heading into Wednesday's caucus meeting, MPs passed by a table with masks and rapid tests. 

Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer, who is himself double vaccinated against COVID-19 but also believes that information should be private, said providing rapid tests was about giving people options. 

"All Canadians should have those options available to them, regardless of their vaccination status."

Dean Allison, a longtime Ontario MP, said he has a medical exemption from getting vaccinated and takes tests at least twice a week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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