OTTAWA — Former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole says that after more than a decade in politics, he will not seek re-election and plans to resign his seat this spring.
The Ontario MP led the Conservatives and served as official Opposition leader from August 2020 until February 2022, when a majority of his caucus voted to remove him from the post.
"I am a proud Conservative and had the unique privilege to lead our party amid a challenging time for our country," he said in a statement shared on social media Friday morning.
"The Conservative party is the party of Confederation and I know it will return to government offering the hope and ideas our country so desperately needs."
He added: "I will help in any way I can."
His ousting followed months of tensions over O'Toole's management of caucus and attempts to moderate the party's image after two consecutive election losses. Those efforts led to concerns that he flip-flopped on key policy positions, including on carbon pricing and gun control, angering the party's base. He also struggled to satisfy many with his position on vaccine mandates.
The ultimate shove came while the protesters of the "Freedom Convoy" descended on downtown Ottawa, honking their vehicles and decrying COVID-19 health restrictions — many of them using expletive-laden flags critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that O'Toole said in a late 2022 blog post he hoped to see fewer of going forward.
In that same post, he warned of growing polarization in Canadian politics and suggested that symbols like the anti-Trudeau flags were "slowly normalizing rage and damaging our democracy."
He wrote at the time that Trudeau was "my political opponent, not my enemy."
Besides taking up more writing, the MP has kept a low profile on Parliament Hill since his time as leader.
In interviews he has given since, O'Toole has reflected on the difficulties of leading the party during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the face of suspected Chinese election meddling, which the party alleges targeted several Conservative-held ridings as O'Toole struck a hawkish stand against the regime.
Pierre Poilievre replaced O'Toole as the Conservatives' permanent leader last September, and is overseeing a much more unified caucus and party.
Following O'Toole's announcement, Poilievre issued a statement thanking the MP for his years of service, including his time spent in the military before entering politics.
"During his time as leader of the Opposition, Erin held the Trudeau government to account, fighting against their reckless spending and divisive politics. The House of Commons will be a lesser place without his experience and statesmanship."
"And above all else," Poilievre continued, "I know Erin to be a man who puts his family at the centre of all that he does."
The military veteran-turned-lawyer was first elected in a 2012 byelection. He served as parliamentary secretary to the minister for international trade, then veterans affairs minister during the final year of Stephen Harper's Conservative government before it lost power in 2015.
O'Toole took a first crack at running for the party leadership in the crowded 2017 race to replace Harper. He finished third.
He successfully ran for a second time in 2020, beating out his chief opponent, former cabinet minister Peter MacKay.
"I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to advance issues that I believe are critically important — from veterans' mental health, to military preparedness, nuclear energy, Arctic sovereignty and a range of other important issues," O'Toole said in Friday's statement.
"I will continue to advance these interests and serve my constituents until the end of this session."
Fellow Conservative MPs Scott Aitchison and Michelle Rempel Garner sent O'Toole, his wife and their two kids well wishes on social media Friday, as did party president Rob Batherson.
O'Toole's statement said he first broke the decision to his Durham constituency during a speech to a local trade board.
The upcoming seat vacancy is one of several that will need to be filled in byelections, unless a general election is called in the near future. Last month, Candice Bergen, a longtime Manitoba MP who took over as interim leader after O'Toole, also announced she was leaving.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press