Conservative riding association joins call for vote on O’Toole’s leadership

A Conservative Party riding association in southern Alberta has become the first in the country to formally petition the party’s national council for a leadership review.

The decision by the Foothills electoral district association (EDA) represents another Western-based challenge to Erin O’Toole’s leadership, after Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters’ petition demanding an accelerated leadership review was blocked by the party’s governing council.

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The Foothills EDA passed a motion on Jan. 22 calling for a leadership review vote no later than June 15 to “ensure a united and strong Conservative Party of Canada in preparation for an imminent election.” A copy of the motion was obtained by Global News.

It’s not clear if the actions of the Foothills EDA board will herald similar moves by other riding associations. Several Alberta-based Conservative MPs responded to queries Tuesday morning to say they are not aware of similar motions suggesting the move by the Foothills board may be a relatively isolate one at this point. But two sources active in Conservative campaigning and organizing say at least two other EDAs in Western Canada may be contemplating a similar move.

Party President Rob Batherson said in a statement e-mailed to Global News that “very few Electoral District Associations across Canada have expressed an opinion to have an earlier review than what is currently scheduled.”  Batherson said the national council would provide a response to the Foothills EDA.

Batherson also referred to a “nearly unanimous” decision in late 2020 made by the party’s governing and elected national council to stick to the timeline laid down in the party’s constitution for the next national convention. The party has already decided to hold it in August, 2023 in Quebec City.

“National Council always considers the diverse views of our members and electoral district associations in our decision making, in concert with our responsibility to respect the Constitution that is set by grassroots Conservative Party members at every national convention,” Batherson said.

Riding associations, particularly those in Western Canada, play a significant role in the Conservative party. They are, for example, the bedrock upon which the party’s fundraising prowess is based and generally hold significant cash reserves themselves. That said, the riding association in Foothills was one of the laggards in 2020, the most recent year for which financial information for EDAs is available. Foothills raised $18,585 from 81 donors that year, 28th of 34 in the province and 110th of 338 in the country.

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Foothills is a relatively affluent riding — its median household income of nearly $83,000 a year was well above the average of about $60,000 for all federal electoral districts — that stretches south from Calgary down to the U.S. border and east to the mountains and the B.C. border.

The Foothills board passed the motion just as Conservative MPs prepare for a pre-Parliament strategy session this week. The meetings will include the results of an election post-mortem, conducted by former Calgary MP James Cumming, which looked at where O’Toole’s 2021 campaign fell short.

The MP for Foothills, John Barlow, endorsed Peter MacKay in the party’s 2020 leadership race, which O’Toole won on the final ballot. Barlow, who won nearly 70 per cent of the vote in his riding in last fall’s general election, declined to comment on the actions of his riding association. Karen Spencer, the riding association president, did not respond to e-mails and phone messages.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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