The final four Conservative Party leadership candidates: Peter MacKay, Leslyn Lewis, Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan.
With the membership sales deadline passing Friday at midnight, the Conservative leadership race enters a new phase where campaigns stop trying to woo people outside the party and focus instead on earning the vote of loyalists.
The deadline is an important milestone in any leadership race, but this time it comes in the midst of very strange circumstances. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has still not been a single debate involving the contestants, and nobody has been able to campaign in person for two months.
Instead the leadership race has become a battle conducted by teleconferences, Zoom calls, email blasts and social media pitches. The party hopes to hold leadership debates in June, but details have not been settled yet.
The four candidates who’ve qualified for the final ballot — Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan — spent Friday with their campaign teams making a last-minute push for membership sales and renewals, working the phones hard and mobilizing their volunteers to do the same. In order to vote in the leadership election, a party member must be fully paid up by Friday night. The vote will be conducted by mail-in ballot and is scheduled to conclude Aug. 21.
It’s not clear yet whether campaigns will announce their membership numbers after the deadline passes. However, if one campaign goes first in announcing their number, others tend to follow. Claims of membership sales are difficult to verify independently and are frequently disputed by rival campaigns as inflated.
The party itself likely won’t have a finalized list of members for a few weeks, as it takes time to process and verify all the applications. In the 2017 leadership race, 260,000 members were eligible to vote.
One organizer also pointed out that campaigns likely can’t know the true number of their memberships, as many will sign up through the party’s central website rather than through a leadership candidate’s.
Our team has signed up more new members than have ever been signed up in the history of Conservative party leadership campaigns
Nonetheless, campaigns will now make a hard push to convince party members that they’re best positioned to win.
“We are incredibly proud of the work that over 3,000 volunteers across the country have put in to sell memberships on behalf of Peter MacKay,” said the candidate’s spokesman, Jordan Paquet, on Friday. “Our team has signed up more new members than have ever been signed up in the history of Conservative party leadership campaigns. Moving into the next phase of the campaign, we definitely have the momentum in building a bigger, united conservative movement with people who share Peter’s positive conservative vision.”
O’Toole spokeswoman Melanie Paradis said their campaign has been “working hard to connect with Conservatives across the country for months.”
“Our momentum has been tremendous and we are very excited by the growing number of members joining our team,” Paradis said. “Tens of thousands of Canadians have bought or renewed CPC memberships to vote for Erin O’Toole. They support his strong, principled conservative policies and believe he can take on Justin Trudeau in the next election and win. As we move into this next phase of the campaign, we are energized, organized and ready to win.”
O’Toole and MacKay are considered the race’s front-runners. Fundraising data, along with the limited polling that’s been done, suggest it could be a close race and may come down to multiple rounds on the ranked ballot before a winner is determined.
Political correctness and left-wing cancel culture drive them to an anti-democratic decision
Lewis’ campaign manager, Steve Outhouse, said they’re encouraged by how things have gone despite the disruption of the pandemic.
“Leslyn was an outsider coming into this process, so that’s obviously a challenge we had to overcome,” he said. “Literally thousands and thousands of Canadians have signed on to support her campaign. It gives us optimism going into the next next phase of this race, which is going to be to introduce her to as many of the existing members of the party as possible so they can hear that they have a real conservative option in front of them when they vote.”
Sloan’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but his team was busy sending out emails on Friday in a final push for memberships.
One of the emails made a pitch to supporters of former candidate Jim Karahalios, who was in court on Friday fighting his disqualification in March. If Karahalios is successful in overturning the party’s decision, it would throw yet another wrench into the race.
“It is most unfortunate that, once again, (the party’s organizing committee) let political correctness and left-wing cancel culture drive them to an anti-democratic decision,” Sloan said. “If we really believe in grassroots democracy, where the party members, and not an appointed Red Tory elite, have the power, then I hope the court rules in Jim Karahalios’ favour.”
Karahalios’ disqualification was prompted by a complaint from O’Toole after Karahalios circulated a letter attacking Walied Soliman, O’Toole’s campaign chair and a well-known Toronto lawyer. The letter accused O’Toole of promoting Sharia law by having Soliman, who is Muslim, on his campaign. It cited a decade-old newspaper article where Soliman answered readers’ questions about Sharia financial products.
Link to National Post article – HERE