Sloan should be tossed from Conservative caucus

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The anti-gay and anti-choice views that formed the basis of his campaign for the Conservative leadership were bad enough.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on December 7, 2020.

OTTAWA—Derek Sloan should be tossed from the Conservative caucus.

The anti-gay and anti-choice views that formed the basis of his campaign for the Conservative leadership were bad enough.

Last week, he went from the ridiculous to the delirious, sponsoring a parliamentary petition that discourages Canadians from vaccinating themselves against the worst public health scourge in a century.

Sloan actually went so far as to claim that the vaccination was human experimentation and within hours of its announcement, his petition had gathered more than 22,000 signatures. Even more frightening was the decision by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to sidestep the question when asked about it during a presser on the government’s handling of the vaccine. On this one, O’Toole is making a deadly mistake.

While he and his party were starting to develop some media traction in the attacks on government pandemic strategies, the Sloan petition has the effect of throwing all that under the bus.

It makes a number of egregiously false claims including the fact that “no coronavirus vaccine has ever been approved because of serious adverse effects, including death to test animals, due to pathogenic priming; COVID vaccines are not designed to prevent infection or transmission and bypassing proper safety protocols means COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.”

This is not the first time Sloan has put his foot in the wrong place. Who can forget his claim that Dr. Theresa Tam was a Chinese agent, a statement for which he did apologize? He has not apologized for opposing federal legislation to end conversion therapy. Sloan stands with those groups that claim they can stamp out homosexual urges through shaming and bullying.

O’Toole is refusing to silence Sloan and by not doing so, he will alienate the majority of the thinking population.

How can the Conservative leader convince Canadians to vaccinate themselves when his own colleague is leading the warped world of online anti-vaxxers?

Before the recent American presidential vote, social media websites like Instagram and Twitter actually blocked false anti-vaccination claims, suggesting they were untrue and designed to have an influence on the election result.

But here in Canada, O’Toole runs the risk of losing the public completely by refusing to stop Sloan from peddling his false and dangerous claims.

It looks as though the Conservatives are backing themselves into the same corner that cost them the last election.

Their refusal to shake off the extremists in their caucus and party are going to do them grievous harm when most Canadians are looking for leadership on pandemic issues.

With the government launching another confidence vote on the $25-billion COVID-fighting investment announced by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland last week, the Tories could be facing the electorate sooner rather than later.

That means a clear, coherent strategy on the main issue of the day should not be muddied by caucus members with mixed messaging. Kicking Sloan out would mean a couple of days of internally negative headlines, but it would clear the way for an election that would not be affected by mixed Tory messaging.

O’Toole has struggled to place himself in the moderate middle when it comes to social issues facing his very conservative caucus. He made it clear immediately after his leadership that he was not going to follow the lead of Andrew Scheer and turn his back on the gay community.

But with colleagues who have no problem doing that, O’Toole’s brand is damaged when he does nothing about them.

Thus far, the Conservatives have not made much political hay out of the COVID challenge. Even with government missteps, the Tories have been kept off balance by bizarre claims from Sloan that question mask-wearing and accuse public servants of being in cahoots with the Chinese government.

Those statements were beyond bizarre but last week’s anti-vaccination rant makes Sloan’s previous missteps pale in comparison.

If there is one way that we are going to be able to end this collective, global nightmare, it is by massive immunization with a vaccine that can protect the globe from this deadly virus.

The opposition has every right to question the government on vaccine availability and rollout, and the federal/provincial cooperation that has characterized the last nine months could be shattered in the fight for vaccinations.

Under normal circumstances, that tension should provide a real opening for a reasoned, competent Opposition leader to show how his party could offer something better.

But when O’Toole refuses to fire a team member who is a delirious anti-vaxxer, all leadership claims ring hollow.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.