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Erin O’Toole faces calls for early leadership reviews by three riding associations

OTTAWA — Three Conservative riding associations have expressed their wish to see Erin O'Toole's leadership put to an early test.

OTTAWA — Three Conservative riding associations have expressed their wish to see Erin O'Toole's leadership put to an early test.

A motion passed Saturday by the board of the Foothills riding association in Alberta calls for O'Toole to face a review to ensure the party is united and strong before "an imminent election."

A copy of the motion, obtained by The Canadian Press, requests the review happen by mid-June. 

The call comes as O'Toole is set to face his caucus for a two-day retreat that begins Wednesday before Parliament returns next week.

The meeting is where the caucus is to receive the results of a review into the party's election loss last year at a time when some question his fate as leader.

O’Toole, who has been at the helm since August 2020, isn’t set to face a review by members until 2023.

However, some MPs and party members want a review sooner, citing his performance as leader and attempts to move the party toward the political centre. They worry this shift has alienated traditional Conservative voters in regions including Western Canada, while failing to make much-needed gains in suburbs and communities around Toronto. 

The Foothills request now sits with the party leadership and national council, which appeared Tuesday not to be persuaded. 

"At this time, very few electoral district associations across Canada have expressed an opinion to have an earlier review than what is currently scheduled," party president Rob Batherson said in a statement. 

He added the date of the 2023 Conservative convention, where such a review is scheduled to happen, was decided by near-unanimous consent. 

Asked specifically how many riding associations have sought an early review of O'Toole's leadership, Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann said there have been three, including Foothills, out of hundreds across the country. 

Foothills MP John Barlow, who serves as O'Toole's critic for agriculture, couldn't be immediately reached, nor could the riding association president. O'Toole's office also didn't respond to a request for comment. 

The call for O'Toole's leadership to be tested was spearheaded by longtime Conservative Sen. Denise Batters. Last fall she launched a petition with an accompanying video saying that O'Toole flip-flopped on party policies and the grassroots deserve to have a say. 

O'Toole removed Batters from the party's national caucus. Members of the Tory Senate caucus as well as the regional Saskatchewan caucus decided, however, that she could stay, which suggests they defied the leader. 

On Monday, O'Toole said Batters' presence in these groups didn't bother him and emphasized that members of the national Conservative caucus, which includes both MPs and senators, believe in working as a team to modernize and grow the party. 

While several ridings have indicated they favour an earlier test as opposed to waiting, the president of the Winnipeg South Conservative Association said it supports O'Toole's leadership.

In a recent resolution shared with The Canadian Press, the association's executive committee said it has received emails questioning his leadership and asking for support with the petition. 

It goes on to say it believes the party needs unity to prepare for the next election and that "a leadership election at this time would be detrimental to the party." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press