OTTAWA—The Conservative leadership race is starting to take form as potential candidates seek support at the summer caucus retreat, bringing some contenders that much closer to making their move.
“I think this is really the last ingredient,” Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said of the time he will spend speaking to his caucus colleagues as they gather in Halifax to plan for their return to Parliament Hill next week.
The news this week that former cabinet minister Peter MacKay has officially decided not to join the race has cleared the way for other hopefuls—and more precisely, their potential campaign teams and financial donors—to start making their own intentions known, even if most political observers did not consider his decision a surprise.
“I would suspect that now, nobody is waiting for anybody else to enter, so you need to signal your intentions sooner rather than later,” said Conservative strategist Tim Powers.
One big move came from Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, who on Tuesday, Sept. 13, gave up his job as Opposition House leader.
“My consultations about a possible run for the Conservative leadership have been very encouraging and I would like to continue to explore the feasibility of such an endeavour,” the Saskatchewan MP said in an email statement.
The former Speaker of the House of Commons is expected to officially declare his candidacy in the coming weeks.
O’Toole, a bilingual MP from Ontario who is reconsidering his earlier decision to stay out of the race, said he wants to use his time in Halifax to make sure that the support he has received from his colleagues is widespread among the 97 MPs and 41 senators that make up the Conservative caucus.
“I would be running as a unifier and I have to make sure that I have that support throughout the caucus,” O’Toole said in an interview.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt has said she has made up her mind and she is expected to make an announcement sometime this month.
Quebec MP Maxime Bernier announced the endorsement of four Conservatives from Atlantic Canada, including Nova Scotia Sen. Stephen Greene.
And Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, who has not yet filed his paperwork, told reporters Tuesday he is resigning from his role as the Conservative critic for Canada-U.S. relations.
So far, MPs Bernier, Michael Chong, Tony Clement, Kellie Leitch, and Deepak Obhrai have all officially entered the race to replace Stephen Harper, but nearly a dozen others have expressed at least some degree of interest.
Party in good shape
Conservative strategist Rick Anderson said the fact that the field of potential contenders is diverse—including men and women, those with more experience and those from a newer generation, a broad range of views that one would expect from a coalition party, and at least one candidate from Quebec—suggests Harper left the party in better shape than his critics like to admit.
In her speech to open the caucus meeting Tuesday morning, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said it is critical that the party remain united even as candidates stake out their positions in the months leading up to the May 27 convention, which will choose the new leader.
“We know that drama drives ratings, that those outside our party will do everything they can to separate us into separate camps,” Ambrose said. “We’ve been there before, a long, long time ago, and we have no intention of going back there.”
One controversial debate that woke up an otherwise uneventful leadership race earlier this month began after Leitch proposed having the federal government screen potential immigrants and refugees for what her campaign referred to as anti-Canadian values.
Conservative strategist Jim Armour said Ambrose will need to make sure the caucus is united where it counts—in the Commons, while it is trying to hold the Liberal government to account.
“Outside of that, there is going to be all sorts of disagreements and there probably has to be for it to be a real race,” said Armour.
From The Canadian Press