Tories unsettled over whether ends justify the means in ouster of Derek Sloan

·5 min read

OTTAWA — Conservatives were torn Tuesday over a decision by party leader Erin O'Toole to try to expel an MP from their ranks over a donation from a known white nationalist.

The party's 121 MPs are set to vote via secret ballot Wednesday morning on whether Derek Sloan ought to be removed, with a simple majority required to oust him.

While Sloan has courted his fair share of controversy for months, the idea he should be booted from caucus specifically because of a donation he said he had not realized he'd received wasn't sitting well with some MPs and party supporters.

And the move prompted immediate backlash from some anti-abortion groups, who had been firmly in Sloan's corner during the leadership race he lost to O'Toole almost six months ago.

The group Right Now urged backers to contact MPs to voice their displeasure.

"We feel that this an attempt to discourage pro-lifers from engaging within the Conservative Party of Canada, specifically at the upcoming policy convention," Right Now's email said.

"If those officials in the Conservative Party of Canada who do not share our values were not threatened by us taking our rightful and democratic place within the party, then they would not attempt such a brazen and obviously desperate effort such as this."

The controversy over the $131 donated by Paul Fromm, a longtime political activist with links to neo-Nazi causes, erupted late Monday.

O'Toole declared the donation — made under the name "Frederick P. Fromm" — meant Sloan could no longer be a Conservative MP, citing an intolerance for racism within the party. O'Toole promptly kick-started the process of getting him removed from the Conservative caucus.

Some MPs publicly voiced their approval on social media, but privately concerns were immediately raised about the bar O'Toole was setting.

The party prides itself on collecting donations from hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters. Vetting them all against an unclear standard would be challenging, if not outright impossible.

Sloan was first elected as the MP for the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington in 2019 and stunned many of his fellow MPs by running to lead the party not long after.

He has sparked several controversies during his relatively short political life. He's been accused of racism for questioning the loyalty of the country's chief public health officer, a charge he denied. He's also suggested being LGBTQ is not a matter of science and compared a ban on therapy designed to force a person to change their gender or sexual identity to child abuse.

During the leadership race, O'Toole told MPs Sloan ought not be kicked out of caucus over the remarks he made about Dr. Theresa Tam, even buying ads on social media trumpeting that position.

The fact a donation would be the thing that finally turned O'Toole against Sloan raised some eyebrows.

"That he plays silly-bugger word games that homosexuality is a choice should have disqualified him. But kicking him out over a donation from a racist who disguised his identity? So many good reasons to kick him out. Not sure this is one," wrote longtime Conservative operative and strategist Chisholm Pothier on Twitter.

"Glad he’s gone. But ends justifying the means is easy, principled politics is hard."

The Liberals had been calling for months for O'Toole to eject Sloan, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that he was pleased O'Toole was showing leadership.

"Political parties need to remain vigilant, particularly in the wake of what we see in the United States, from the infiltration or the active presence of fringe or extremist or violent or unacceptable or intolerant elements," Trudeau said at a news conference.

"And that's something that we constantly need to work towards as all politicians in Canada."

Trudeau, however, did not address whether Fromm's organizations would also see money they received in COVID-19 supports clawed back as well.

Fromm has been connected to Holocaust-deniers and other white nationalist groups for years. Sloan cited Fromm's use of his first name in making the donation in saying he was unaware of the source of the funds.

Fromm also holds a membership in the Conservative party, voted in the leadership race, and had registered for a virtual convention the party is holding in March, none of which had raised red flags before Monday's revelation.

Late Tuesday, the party said Fromm's membership would be revoked and he would not be allowed to participate in the convention.

In an interview, Fromm said he's never met Sloan, and while Sloan's policies did appeal to him, he argued that to suggest his money, membership or desire to participate in the convention taints Sloan or the party is ridiculous.

"I think basically, somebody is out to get Sloan and are prepared to use just about anything," he said.

O'Toole won the leadership last year thanks in part to Sloan's supporters, whom he'd courted.

Ever since, he has faced questions about how he'll broaden the appeal of the party, given the strength of its social-conservative wing.

That faction was already gearing up to try to play an outsized role at the party's policy convention in March, organizing to advance several socially conservative positions through policy motions and ensuring they had enough delegates to make them pass.

Their efforts were spurred on by Sloan, who had been pushing people to sign up as delegates, a move viewed within caucus as challenging O'Toole.

Sloan has said he'll fight efforts to expel him. He noted he told the party to return Fromm's donation as soon as he was made aware of it, and wasn't sure what more he could have done.

He declined to say what he was hoping to achieve at the convention, saying he is now focused on what he called the fight of his life.

"O'Toole ran a leadership campaign on fighting cancel culture and promoting a big-tent version of the Conservative party," Sloan said.

"And I hope that he has not jettisoned that in favour of perceived short-term political gain."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press