TORONTO — The leader of Canada’s Conservative party was ousted Wednesday after he failed to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in last year’s election and angered his party’s lawmakers by moving it to the center.
It is the third Conservative leader that Trudeau has helped bring down.
Party lawmakers voted 73 to 45 to remove Erin O’Toole.
Trudeau thanked O’Toole for his service. “It is a very, very difficult life for even the most successful of us,” he said.
His removal has big implications for the conservative movement in Canada. With him gone, the party could swing back further right and in a more populist direction.
O’Toole said this week that lawmakers of his party had a choice between extremism or inclusion that better reflects the Canada of 2022.
O’Toole, in a videotaped message, accepted the result and urged politicians not to be driven by ideology.
“Canada is in a dire moment of our history. You need only take a walk down the street in Parliament to see how divided we are,” O’Toole said in reference to COVID-19 protests in Ottawa.
O’Toole advertised himself as “true-blue Conservative” when he ran for the party’s leadership in 2020. He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada,” but immediately started working to push the party toward the political center. He lost the federal election last fall.
His strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than the United States.
“It’s a chance for a fresh start. We do need to rebuild and reflect on the last election,” Conservative lawmaker Marilyn Gladu said.
Conservative lawmaker Mark Strahl said the next leader needs to respond to the “curtailment of freedoms” Canadians have seen during the pandemic.
“What is our view on vaccinate mandates in the federal sector? Should people be fired who are working from home because they are not vaccinated? Should they able to get on an airplane? Should the fact a triple vaccinated prime minister still contracted COVID-19 have any impact on how we go forward,” Strahl said.
One of the leading candidates to replace him is Pierre Poilievre, a polarizing lawmaker who has met with protesters in Ottawa railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions. Many Canadians are outraged by the behavior of the demonstrators, who continue to block streets and blare horns at all hours.
In the fall election, Trudeau bet Canadians didn’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic and voiced the concerns of Canadians who were upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.
Conservative lawmakers voted late Wednesday to make Candice Bergen, who has been photographed wearing a Trump hat, the interim leader. Bergen met with some of the protesters.
“It looks like the Conservatives will swing right and populist but that will hurt them in Atlantic Canada, metropolitan urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and it won’t do much for them in the rest of Quebec,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
Daniel Beland, a politics professor at McGill University in Montreal, said the vote to oust O’Toole is a clear victory for the more populist side of the party.
“The next leader is likely to belong to that side of it,” Beland said. “This would be a risky gamble electorally to move the party further to the right, father away from the preferences of the more centrist average voter.”
O’Toole’s removal as party leader follows the ouster of Trudeau rivals Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer.