OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan is digging in on his attacks on Canada’s chief public health officer, now saying he believes Dr. Theresa Tam should be fired for having “very likely cost Canadian lives.”
The freshman MP from Hastings—Lennox and Addington in Ontario attracted national attention last week when he questioned Tam’s loyalty to Canada, condemning her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as her work with an oversight committee of the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN body has faced scrutiny over its guidance to other countries after the COVID-19 outbreak began in China.
In an email, Sloan called the WHO a “puppet” of China, and claimed the UN body had “endangered millions of lives around the world by covering up the COVID-19 virus at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.”
He wrote that Canada’s chief public health officer “needs to work for Canada. Not for the WHO or any other foreign entity” and urged supporters who agree with him to sign on to his team.
Watch: Scheer won’t address MP Derek Sloan’s attack on top public health doc. Story continues below video.
Sloan rejected calls by his Ontario colleagues this week to apologize for his remarks. Many of Conservative MPs want him ejected from their ranks — a move that will be discussed when the party’s national caucus meets virtually Friday.
Nearly two-dozen MPs have signed a letter requesting a secret ballot vote to decide Sloan’s future. The Conservatives are the only party to adopt special rules that allow the caucus to eject one of its members. If 20 per cent of caucus — 25 MPs — call for a vote, Sloan could be booted through a simple majority decision. One Tory said discussions were underway on how to hold a secret ballot remotely.
On the eve of Friday’s meeting, Sloan sent another email to party members, and he did not let up on his criticism of Tam.
“Despite what the left-wing narrative is saying, I did not—and I am not—questioning Dr. Theresa Tam’s loyalty to Canada,” he wrote in an email on Thursday.
He was only raising questions about her management of the pandemic response, he suggested.
“That advice, the policy decisions taken, and the management of Canada’s response to COVID-19 have very likely cost Canadian lives, but Dr. Theresa Tam continues to function as Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer,” he wrote. “So I will say it again: Dr. Theresa Tam must be fired.”
The MP previously said he was being unfairly, though not unexpectedly, called a racist for his criticism of the doctor. Tam was born in Hong Kong and is of Chinese heritage.
Asked last week what she thought of the criticism, Tam said she was “pretty focused” and works “really hard, probably over 20 hours a day.
“My singular focus is to work with all of my colleagues to get this epidemic wave under control. I don’t let noise detract me from doing that.”
In Thursday’s email, Sloan said it was his duty and that of his colleagues to hold the government accountable and he and other Conservatives should “never back down from defending the truth.
“We must never kowtow to political correctness. The future of Canada depends on it,” he said Thursday, signing his note “Conservative. Without apology.”
Many Conservative MPs are fed up with what they see as Sloan’s distracting sideshow that reflects badly on the party brand. Some are also deeply disappointed in Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s tepid response to Sloan’s comments — taking a week to distance himself from the remarks.
The vast majority of the Ontario caucus wanted Sloan to apologize. According to CBC News, only Sloan and fellow leadership challenger Erin O’Toole voted against the motion.
Sloan responded to his colleagues’ concerns Wednesday by saying he was not questioning Tam’s loyalty but only asking a “rhetorical question.”
On Thursday, longtime Conservative Ontario MP Scott Reid tweeted that if Sloan was kicked out of caucus, he would not be eligible to run in the leadership contest. Reid suggested that could benefit a rival candidate who might not receive much support from Sloan’s voters in a preferential ballot. Reid hinted an MP with ulterior motives may have leaked details of Wednesday’s meeting.
The Conservative leadership race currently has four contenders: Sloan, O’Toole, Leslyn Lewis and Peter MacKay. Sloan and Lewis are backed by the party’s vocal social conservatives. Support from that group proved key to Scheer’s leadership win in 2017 over Maxime Bernier.
This time, O’Toole has been courting the party’s social conservatives, as many view MacKay as too much of a red Tory with socially progressive views on abortion and same-sex marriage. Thursday, he tried to rectify that. In an email blast, MacKay accused O’Toole of being less than honest with fundraising numbers and took the opportunity to note his opponent’s less than stellar record on social conservative issues.
“While I haven’t always agreed with him, like when he voted in favour of the Transgender Rights “bathroom” Bill in 2012, I’ve always respected that his motivations were positive,” MacKay wrote.
That bill, sponsored by an NDP MP, sought to expanded legal protection for transgendered Canadians against discrimination. While some members of the Conservative caucus supported the legislation, others were opposed. Then Tory MP Rob Anders started a petition opposing what he called the “bathroom bill,” saying it would encourage pedophiles to lurk in washrooms and attack unsuspecting victims. The canard that trans-inclusive bathrooms give cover to predators has been widely debunked.
Friday afternoon, MacKay’s team walked back his comments, saying his views on transgender rights had “evolved” since his voting record in Parliament and after meeting with members of the LGBTQ community. The candidate now understands the term “bathroom bill” carries a negative connection and he won’t be using it again, his spokesperson said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives’ Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) announced the party leadership race will go ahead as planned with a membership cut off on May 15. The deadline for mail-in ballots will be August 21 and a new leader will be announced several days later.
Despite Reid’s tweet, there are no party rules that state a caucus ejection would directly result in a candidate’s termination from the leadership race. That decision would have to be made by LEOC.