The Conservative Party of Canada has voted to expel former leadership candidate Derek Sloan from their midst, citing donations from a known white nationalist as the “last straw” that led to the controversial member’s ouster.
The vote took place at an emergency caucus meeting earlier this week, which grew out of the public revelation that Sloan’s leadership campaign had accepted a donation from Paul Fromm, an outspoken white nationalist whose pro-Nazi and white supremacist activities have been documented for decades by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
Just like the original Nazis, Fromm doesn’t rein in his hate; in addition to being profoundly racist and anti-immigrant (despite his own origins in Bogotá, Columbia), he’s been known to push anti-LGBTQ rhetoric as well. He holds a key position as international director of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CoCC), which uses “the traditional family” as a pretext to oppose “homosexuality and other perversions,” and his Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE) has intervened in court on behalf of an anti-trans pamphleteer in British Columbia.
Maybe that’s why he felt so at home in Sloan’s camp. While his political brand has certainly been tainted by racism in the past, and while he’s emerged as the anti-abortion darling of religious organizations like Campaign Life Coalition, he’s arguably best known for opposing a federal conversion therapy ban. His opposition has formed the basis for fearmongering “think of the children” ads seeking to fund his political career, so no one should be surprised at the class of bigot who’s filling his coffers.
Sloan himself pleads ignorance, though — at least in the specific case of Fromm. He argues that Fromm obscured the source of the donation by using his full name, Frederick P. Fromm, when he reached out to the party. He also notes the hypocrisy of ousting him from the party in which Fromm participates as an official member with voting privileges.
But as far as anyone can tell, none of this matters. It’s clear that Fromm’s donation — which amounted to just $131 — is little more than a pretext to rid the party of an outspoken right-wing voice whose views have become an embarrassment to the more mainstream elements in the Conservative Party of Canada. Party leader Erin O’Toole has said as much:
The Conservative caucus voted to remove Derek Sloan not because of one specific event, but because of a pattern of destructive behaviour involving multiple incidents and disrespect towards the Conservative team for over a year.
These actions have been a consistent distraction from our efforts to grow the party and focus on the work we need to do. Events of the past week were simply the last straw and led to our caucus making the decision it did today.
Despite declaring that “there is no place for the far right in our party,” O’Toole was much more comfortable courting those socially conservative elements during the leadership convention, and he clearly hasn’t forgotten the role of the religious right in supporting the Conservatives. He was careful to state that Sloan’s ouster had nothing to do with the religious values that made some voters sympathetic to his rhetoric:
We have Members of Parliament of deep compassion and unmatched character, who like many Canadians, draw strength from their faith. The Conservative Party is a big tent that is reflective of all Canadians. People of all backgrounds have a place in our party.
Once again, he’s attempting to have it both ways. He wants to say that everyone is welcome in the party while also saying that bigotry isn’t welcome. What he really wants, it seems, is a veneer of Canadian politeness brushed over the reality of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that characterizes the bulk of social conservatism, so he doesn’t have to confront the areas of overlap between religious conservatism and far-right ideology.
Sloan responded to his removal from the party with a message for his supporters, in which he accused O’Toole of “going on the warpath” to get rid of him. Nevertheless, he encouraged them to keep their party membership and work towards steering the party further rightward:
No matter how callous and misguided today’s actions by Erin and my colleagues were, we have much work to do in the next two months as we prepare for the policy convention in March. No matter how ugly — how undemocratic — the events of the last two days have been, always remember, the Party is not the personal property of Erin O’Toole; the CPC belongs to you – the grassroots of the Party. I encourage you to use your voice, to stand up, and represent true conservative values with this convention.
A subsequent video said the controversies that got him booted are what “animates much of our base” and decried O’Toole’s cowardice in evading the issues. “This was the worst mistake they ever made,” he said ominously, “and they will regret this. I’m positive of it.”
Sloan will remain in the House of Commons as an Independent MP, at least until the next election. Given the Canadian electoral system, in which the opposition could unite to bring down the governing party, that could be virtually any time, and there’s been plenty of speculation about the likelihood of a federal election this year.
Only time will tell how things will unfold underneath the Conservatives’ “big tent.”