Ontario Conservative MP Derek Sloan could be expelled from his party’s caucus as early as Tuesday for accepting a donation to his leadership campaign from a white supremacist.
But Sloan accused the party of hypocrisy, saying that Paul Fromm, who has been associated with Neo Nazis for years, was a party member and voted in last year’s leadership contest — a fact that would have been known to all candidates, including eventual winner Erin O’Toole, as well as the party itself.
“If I am guilty of something, they are guilty of something. This is ridiculous,” Sloan told supporters in a Facebook video late Monday night.
“I’m not going to go down without a fight.”
The party did not immediately return a request to confirm Fromm’s membership, though he noted himself on Twitter that he had registered to attend the upcoming policy convention, which only party members are allowed to do.
Several hours earlier, O’Toole had issued a statement saying he will seek to have Sloan expelled from the Conservative caucus and will bar him from running for the party in the next election.
He said accepting Fromm’s donation was “far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence” by his former leadership rival.
“Racism is a disease of the soul, repugnant to our core values. It has no place in our country. It has no place in the Conservative Party of Canada. I won’t tolerate it,” O’Toole said in the statement, issued less than three hours after word of Sloan’s donation first emerged.
It is up to Conservative MPs to vote on whether Sloan ought to remain, and some MPs said Monday they expect that vote to happen as early as Tuesday.
Privately, several expressed concern with the way O’Toole had handled the issue, noting while many aren’t fans of Sloan’s hard-right social conservative views, booting him over a donation could set a dangerous precedent.
Some were also quick to point out that O’Toole opposed an effort to oust Sloan from caucus during the leadership race, when he was accused of racism for remarks he made about Canada’s chief public health officer.
Sloan said he was completely unaware that Fromm had donated to his campaign until a report surfaced in Press Progress late Monday afternoon, and no one from the party or O’Toole’s office reached out to him.
Fromm has been a fixture in right-wing politics for decades, including participating in events with the neo-Nazi Heritage Front.
He had tried to buy a membership for the 2017 Conservative leadership race via candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign, but his money was returned.
Sloan said it’s absurd to believe that any leadership candidate, or any MP, should be familiar with the names of every single one of their donors.
Fromm’s total donation of $131 was made Aug. 7, just weeks before the contest ended. Of that, Sloan’s campaign received $117.90, with the party taking the rest.
Sloan said Fromm donated to his campaign using the name “Frederick P. Fromm,” further obscuring the source of the funds.
He said the party would have checked the name at the time, and never raised a red flag then, nor did anyone do so when Fromm’s mail-in ballot would have come in.
“They are now trying to kick me out of the party for not having some excessive standard of scrutiny that they don’t even have themselves,” Sloan said.
O’Toole ultimately won leadership of the party last year thanks to Sloan’s supporters, and those of social conservative Leslyn Lewis, who backed him instead of his main rival, Peter MacKay, on the last ballot.
Ever since, questions have dogged O’Toole about how he’d seek to ensure the views of social conservatives are respected but also win support among more moderate Canadians wary that those points of view would dominate the party’s agenda.
The issue became a live one again in recent weeks as O’Toole faced pressure to clearly draw a line between his party and the kind of extreme right wing politics that has flared up into violence in the U.S.
On Sunday, he issued a statement pledging that there would be no room in his party for the “far right,” a missive that his office insisted was in response to attacks from rival parties all week long on that score.
But it had prompted questions about how he intends to honour that pledge given that his caucus includes those who don’t share his support for LGBTQ rights and a woman’s right to choose, among other issues.
The issue was poised to also come to a head at the party’s upcoming policy convention.
Delegate registration ended this past Friday and, while O’Toole had said Sunday that he leads a ”moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party,” factions of the party’s right wing have been organizing to advance their causes at the virtual event in March.
“Sick of hearing Conservative politicians say they ‘won’t reopen the abortion debate?’ Then change it,” the anti-abortion group Right Now told its supporters.
“Register to become a delegate at the upcoming online policy convention and vote to remove that line from the policy handbook.”
Sloan himself had also been aggressively recruiting delegates to go to the convention, using his membership lists to blast emails and robocalls to party members saying he was their voice and their issues must be represented.
“We need as many truly ‘conservative’ delegates to participate as possible. The more ‘conservative’ delegates who participate, the more success we will have in making the (Conservative Party of Canada) into a truly conservative party,” Sloan wrote in an email to his supporters, obtained by The Canadian Press.
On Twitter, Fromm himself suggested he is registered to be a delegate at the convention thanks to Sloan’s outreach.
“I inadvertently got Derek Sloan into trouble when I responded to an appeal from his office to register for the party’s policy convention,” he wrote.
“Wasn’t O’Toole talking about building an inclusive party?”
Party leaders don’t normally have transparent control over what policy resolutions are put to debate at conventions.
It’s a complicated system that includes member votes, regional representation and the ultimate green-light by party officials.
But previous Conservative leaders have been accused of placing pressure on those officials to structure debates such that time runs out before certain ideas can be discussed.
Those allegations saw O’Toole promise during his leadership bid that all ideas that make it to the convention will have a chance to be heard and voted on.
“Let’s embrace our grassroots, not run from it,” he said in his platform.
Whether he stands by that pledge is unclear. His office directed questions on the subject to the party, which did not return a request for comment.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
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