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Canada's Conservatives seeking new leader

Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / US Dept. of Defense
Former MP and Canadian Minister of Defence Peter MacKay, seen here at a 2011 security jorum in Halifax, appears to be the leading candidate to become the new Conservative leader.

The race is on for Canada’s next top Tory. The Conservative Party of Canada, which presently forms Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, will select its new leader at a convention in Toronto on June 27.

The Conservatives, colloquially known as the Tories in a borrowed term from the British, won 121 seats in the Oct. 21, 2019 federal election, behind the Liberals with 157 seats. The Liberals have a minority government. Feasibly, the Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party could defeat the Liberal government on a motion of non-confidence and force another election at any time before a normal four-year term is completed. Leader Andrew Scheer resigned on Dec. 12 under pressure from various factions within the party.

So far, former Member of Parliament (MP) Peter MacKay, who served as Minister of Defence, Justice and Foreign Affairs at various points during the nine-year government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is the perceived official frontrunner in the race. True to his Nova Scotia roots, MacKay is from the more moderate “Red Tory” wing of the party that generally combines fiscal responsibility with progressive social policies. MacKay was also the last leader of the former Progressive Conservative (PC) Party, which merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the present Conservatives in 2004. MacKay left politics in 2015 but is aiming for a return at the helm of the party.

Erin O’Toole, an MP and former cabinet minister from central Ontario, is running, along with MP and former cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre, who represents a district in Ottawa. MP Marilyn Gladu from southwestern Ontario rounds out the elected officials seeking the leadership.

Former interim party leader Rona Ambrose is also rumored to be considering a run. Ambrose was an MP and cabinet minister under Stephen Harper. As interim leader following Harper’s resignation following the party’s defeat in the 2015 election, Ambrose was effective at holding Prime Minister Trudeau’s government accountable in parliament until 2017 when Andrew Scheer became leader.

On Friday, Toronto businessman and 2019 local candidate Bobby Singh also announced his candidacy.

Running for the leadership of Canada’s Conservatives is not as simple as filling out a form. It requires 3,000 signatures from party members, a $200,000 registration fee and a $100,000 deposit that are given to party headquarters. Then comes the actual fundraising for each candidate’s campaign. 

Candidates assemble teams of campaign managers and strategists and spend their time traveling the country, seeking support (both on the ballot and financially) from party members. There are also debates with other leadership candidates. Every member gets a vote in the Conservative Party. The ballots are cast in the days ahead and then the results announced at the leadership convention.

It is unlikely that the opposition parties in the House of Commons will force a federal election in Canada during the next six months. It is too soon after the last one and voters could punish any party that helped make it happen that was also hoping to gain seats or form the next government. However, once the Conservatives have a new leader in place, the dynamics of parliament and politics will change and the Trudeau minority government could become more fragile.  

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