Conservative Leadership Race Enters the Home Stretch

July 31, 2020 Updated: August 4, 2020

The Conservative Party leadership race is still up for grabs, despite a recent poll showing that Peter MacKay has more support than his three opponents combined, strategists and advocates say.

Voting, which is currently underway by mail, must be completed by Aug. 21 and the new leader will be announced shortly after.

A poll of Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) voters released by Maru/Blue on July 28 showed that 55 percent support MacKay. Erin O’Toole trailed at second with 23 percent, while Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan were tied at 11 percent.

Even so, MacKay trailed on some other metrics.

“It’s worthwhile to note that even in our own poll, two other candidates fared better than the perceived frontrunner—O’Toole on ‘momentum’ and Lewis on ‘favourability,’” John Wright, executive vice-president of Maru/Blue said in an email to The Epoch Times.

Among the general public, the poll showed 51 percent support for MacKay, 25 percent for O’Toole, 16 percent for Lewis, and 8 percent for Sloan.

Wright said the poll “accurately captured the views of potential CPC citizen voters and the general public, and if they all had a vote the race would be over. But they don’t, so everything is still up to voting delegates.”

The 269,469 people who signed up for CPC membership by May 15 can rank their choices for next party leader by mail-in ballot. Recent history suggests some won’t bother. In the 2017 race, just under 55 percent of the membership cast a vote.

The membership has swelled by roughly 10,000 since 2017, however. The CPC says Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta, have respectively seen the largest percentage of membership growth.

While MacKay may be the favourite of many conservatives, he is the least favourite of those who are social conservatives. Alissa Golob, founder of pro-life group RightNow, has chastised social conservative MPs who have endorsed MacKay. She also dismissed the Maru/Blue poll, saying on Twitter that she expects the actual results to be very different than what it shows.

On Instagram, Golob posted a photo of her ballot placing Lewis as her first choice, with Sloan second O’Toole third. The voter’s guide by My Canada, a Christian organization, made the same recommendation.

In a column for the CBC, Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke said Lewis has attracted substantial campaign contributions and support from a wide spectrum of Conservative voters. He said “quiet momentum” for Lewis has grown, and should Sloan supporters pick Lewis as their second choice, she could overtake O’Toole for second place and have a “narrow path to victory” for the leadership.

Lewis missed the July 29 leaders’ debate on doctors orders as she battled an ear infection and fever. After she announced her absence, MacKay announced that he wouldn’t be taking part, either.

“To be fair to all, I will not participate in a debate where she is not present,” he said in a statement released hours before the debate.

Jacqueline Biollo of Aurora Strategy Group told The Epoch Times that debate no-shows can leave a bad impression.

“Skipping a debate can be interpreted as elitist, that you have more important matters to attend to, or that you are so far ahead in the polls not to bother or care,” Biollo says.

“What candidates miss by skipping a debate is an opportunity to connect with the very people they hope to secure their vote, and at some point represent.”

She says no lead is insurmountable and that candidates should remember the old fable of the tortoise and the hare.

“Stay the course. Build your base. Look forward, not behind, and focus more on what you’re doing to win the race than what the other candidates are doing. Leave nothing to chance, plan for and execute a Plan A, B, and C. Be confident but not cocky,” Biollo advises.

Others, like University of Calgary political science professor Melanee Thomas, believe a MacKay victory has been long apparent.

“We always thought this would be a done deal, given MacKay’s profile and past career. So from that angle, these results confirm that this race isn’t exactly competitive. Not like the previous race, at any rate,” she says.

Even so, Thomas says, every contender is in the race with their own priorities.

“For some it’s to win, but for others it’s about positioning themselves, issues, or both within the party,” she explains. “So while MacKay is the most palatable for Canadians who aren’t Conservative partisans, how that process plays out will structure a lot of how palatable MacKay will be during a general election.”