OTTAWA — Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who finished last in the party’s recent leadership race, says he has no regrets about his campaign.
Outside a meeting of the federal Conservative caucus Wednesday, Sloan said he supports the winner of the race, Erin O’Toole, and looks forward to working with him while continuing to champion his own causes.
What that will look like is unclear, he said, but he intends to carry through with the key theme of his campaign: being a conservative, without apology.
“I’m not the leader of the party but I will stand as an MP for the different values that I was promoting during the leadership,” he said to reporters after the first caucus of meeting for the party under O’Toole’s leadership.
Sloan ran a campaign squarely aimed at the right-most corners of the party, and one that was pockmarked by comments that caused hand-wringing about whether he should even remain a part of it.
Among those that captured the most attention was a question Sloan posed publicly about whether Dr. Theresa Tam, who is Canada’s chief public health officer, was working “for Canada or for China,” as she guided the country’s response to COVID-19.
Tam was born in Hong Kong, and there were accusations that in his criticism, Sloan was questioning her loyalty, an assertion he denied.
During the ensuing internal debate over his role within the party, O’Toole stood up for his fellow Ontario MP, though to what degree has never been explicitly clear.
But now as leader, O’Toole did leave Sloan off the list of critics tapped to question government ministers when Parliament resumes.
After leadership races, winners often puts rivals in prominent positions but Sloan said he spoke to O’Toole late last week and understands the direction O’Toole wants to go.
“He made it clear to me that as things go, positions will be provided based on merit and I think that’s a good approach,” he said.
Sloan was the lone candidate in the race who attracted no public endorsements from other MPs; several within caucus who have championed socially conservative causes backed his rival, Leslyn Lewis.
Two of them were given critic positions.
Still, Sloan said he felt welcomed by his fellow MPs Wednesday and supports the direction he sees O’Toole wanting to take the party, even if he doesn’t agree with some of those positions.
Among them: Sloan advocated during the campaign for pulling Canada out of international treaties, including a global commitment to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, a plan O’Toole told the CBC this week he intends to pursue.
“My opinion hasn’t changed on that but obviously as a member of the Conservative party I support our efforts to make Canada a more environmentally friendly place,” Sloan said.
Sloan said that while he finished fourth, the fact he met the threshold for entering the race — a $300,000 fee and 3,000 signatures — was notable, considering the criteria for entry had to be met during the strictest lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His support grew in the final months of the campaign, he said, and had the pandemic not upended as much as it did, he might have finished with a stronger showing.
“I ran the campaign exactly how I wanted to,” he said.
“I don’t have any regrets about it.”
Sloan, who represents the rural Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington, said he does intend to run for the party in the next election.
In the waning weeks of the race, O’Toole courted both Lewis and Sloan supporters, promising to ensure their views would be heard in a party he’d lead and urging them to pick him as their third choice on the ranked ballot the party uses.
After Sloan dropped off the ballot, most of his supporters went to Lewis. When she dropped off, it was O’Toole who won over rival Peter MacKay.
O’Toole’s courting of Sloan’s and Lewis’s supporters has raised questions about what role and voice social conservatives will have in the months ahead. He re-iterated Wednesday that he’s building a party for everyone.
“Whether you are a millennial or an ‘OK, boomer’ baby boomer, whether you are LGBTQ or straight, regardless of your religion or ethnicity, regardless of how long you have been part of the Canadian family, the Conservative front benches and party will reflect the diversity of Canada,” O’Toole said in his speech to his caucus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press