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Rules of the race, including timing, could do much to shape Conservative leadership contest


‘They can’t really afford to take all the time. We don’t have the longest runway, given the current political climate’

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OTTAWA – The Conservative leadership race still only has one formal contestant, but decisions expected to be made soon about how long the race is and who can compete could do a lot to shape the eventual winner.

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After Erin O’Toole lost a caucus vote last month he stepped down as leader, triggering a leadership race for his replacement and the party is still determining what the race will look like.

The Conservatives have established the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC), but that committee has yet to set rules for the race, including when it will end, what entry fee contenders will have to put down, and how long they will have to sign up new members.

Cory Hann, a spokesperson for the party, said the committee knows there is a lot of interest and is working quickly to get rules in place.

“These are important decisions and the LEOC is working with the party with a strong sense of urgency as they take the necessary time to ensure the decisions made allow for a fair, democratic and well-run leadership election, consistent with the obligations under the party’s constitution,” he said in an email.

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The 21-member LEOC is made up of party officials, former MPs and candidates, and other party members.

Conservative MP John Williamson, advocated for a quick race in a letter he sent to fellow MPs last week. In an interview with the National Post, he said there is no reason to delay selecting a leader especially with a minority government.

“Four months is not swift, not when we elect national governments in 35 days. So what we’re proposing, what I’m proposing is a leadership vote by Canada Day, by mid June,” he said.

Williamson said a new leader selected by then would have the summer to meet Canadians, get a staff up and running and pick critic roles for the return to the House of Commons in September.

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The last Conservative leadership was initially proposed to run from December 2019 to the end of June, but was extended to accommodate the pandemic with the ultimate decision being pushed back until August 29. The 2017 race, which took place during the Liberals majority government, lasted for over a year.

Williamson said delaying during a minority government is a major risk.

“The Prime Minister added a confidence motion to the vote on the Emergencies Act. And preparing an election is not something that just happens overnight. It takes months and months and months and months of work. It needs to begin right away as well.”

Williamson has endorsed MP Pierre Poilievre, so far the only challenger to formally declare their intentions to run, but he said this is about ensuring there is fair race and that needs clear rules.

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“It’s in LEOC’s best interest to ensure a strong fair race that the rules be established right away. Pierre is out, building support, building a team, making calls. Other candidates have said they’re waiting until the rules are established.”

Conservative MP John Williamson is calling for a party leadership race by Canada Day, “Four months is not swift, not when we elect national governments in 35 days.”
Conservative MP John Williamson is calling for a party leadership race by Canada Day, “Four months is not swift, not when we elect national governments in 35 days.” Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File

Michael Solberg, a former Conservative staffer and now partner at New West Public Affairs, said a short leadership race is going to benefit well-known candidates.

“It serves to their advantage. They’ll have a higher profile with the media, a better profile with potential donors, they’ll likely have a larger network within the party membership,” he said.

Solberg said for the party however there is a benefit to having a longer race.

“You generate more interest. You are likely to have more candidates come out and vie for leadership of the party. That also just gives the party more profile for a longer period of time and it allows for a longer period to sell more memberships and for the party to raise more money.”

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The race will take place with slightly different rules than the previous contest due to a change party members voted on last year. Previously, all ridings were given 100 points in any leadership contest, whether they had 5,000 members or five members.

All ridings will still have a maximum of 100 points under the tweaked rules, but they won’t get 100 points if they don’t have 100 members, taking away the outsized influence some smaller ridings had in previous contests.

Erika Barootes, a Conservative strategist who won an Alberta Senate election as the party’s representative, said the party might be tempted to run a longer race, but with the minority ongoing it might not have that kind of time.

“They can’t really afford to take all the time. We don’t have the longest runway, given the current political climate,” she said. “In politics, you always want more time, but that’s actually not the reality of the world.”

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She said getting a leader in place early would allow for someone to reach out to members and let the grassroots do more to set the tone and direction of the party.

“If you can get a leader in place and actually allow more time on the back end of members, communicating to the leader and getting policies in place that can influence the direction of the leader as well.”

She said she is confident the organizing committee wants a real race that will grow the party’s tent and get people interested.

“The goal isn’t to have one individual in the race. The more opportunity we can give our membership and the broader population, the better off the Conservative Party is.”

• Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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