Next phase of Conservative party leadership race set to get underway

OTTAWA — The Conservative party is gearing up for the next phase of its leadership race, a contest taking place in unprecedented times.

Wednesday was the deadline for candidates to get on the ballot by getting 3,000 signatures, raising $300,000 and having their applications approved by party officials.

Four candidates crossed that threshold: Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis, former cabinet minister and current MP Erin O’Toole, former cabinet minister and longtime MP Peter MacKay and current MP Derek Sloan.

Three others who had been trying to get into the race, however, found their efforts hamstrung by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

Marilyn Gladu, Rudy Husny and Rick Peterson all called multiple times for the party to extend the deadlines or postpone the contest, saying it was inappropriate for them to be campaigning at a time of crisis.

Peterson subsequently dropped out, while Gladu and Husny had been waiting to see if the party made any changes ahead of the Wednesday deadline.

They didn’t, and Gladu and Husny’s names were removed Wednesday from the list of candidates.

Husny said the leadership organizing committee was the only organization in the world refusing to recognize the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has upended the way of life.

“While I am disappointed, I know that I made the right decision,” Husny said in a statement.

“I can look Canadians and our members in the eye and say I stayed true to my values and put my country and my fellow citizens ahead of my political party and personal ambition.”

The organizing committee must now decide how to roll out the rest of the race while the country is virtually on lockdown.

Social distancing measures mandated by public health officials have ruled out the possibility of a live studio audience for debates that had been scheduled for April. But now even getting the candidates together in a single room for a livestreamed event may no longer be possible.

The deadline to sign up new members is also mid-April, and as a nod to the fact candidates can no longer host large public events to recruit them, the party did create an online portal.

Only members can vote in the June 27 election, and the focus for candidates between now and the April cutoff is to sign up as many supporters as possible.

So far, the organizing committee is sticking to that June 27 date, despite pressure to change it — not only from the candidates, but senior party members including former interim leader Rona Ambrose.

Concerns being raised include the fact that members want to see and meet the candidates in person, not just interact on telephone town halls or watch events on social media, and that no one wants to be fielding polling calls or fundraising requests at present.

Some senior Tories have also complained it makes the party look disconnected from the reality of many Canadians.

The four candidates on the ballot have continued to campaign throughout, albeit in different ways.

MacKay has been holding town halls nearly every night, fielding calls from particular regions of the country. He has advocated for the leadership vote to be moved up, arguing the party needs a leader sooner rather than later.

O’Toole and Sloan have both called for delays. O’Toole continues to reach out to supporters via emails and phone calls, though both he and MacKay appear to have paused their fundraising. Both are directing people to donate to community causes instead.

Sloan, meanwhile, has suggested some of the fees be refunded to candidates to offset the need to fundraise.

Lewis has said the rules, as they are, should remain and she continues to solicit both funds and supporters.

The party rules say members must be able to use a mail-in ballot to choose a new leader if they can’t attend a convention. The party has said that is one reason they could continue as planned with the June 27 election.

But what they’re watching for now is whether Canada Post and the company that handles the technical elements of the balloting can provide what’s needed to ensure the entire vote could be conducted that way, since it’s possible a convention won’t be able to be held.

Canada Post has already said to expect delays in its service overall as it adjusts to the ongoing spread of the pandemic.

The party is also mulling over how to handle a potential legal challenge from a would-be competitor.

Ontario conservative activist Jim Karahalios claimed to have raised the funds and gathered the required signatures, but was disqualified from the contest.

He had been heavily criticized for the tone and substance of his attacks on O’Toole’s campaign, and formal complaints were filed with the party over his conduct.

An investigation into those led to his removal from the race, but Karahalios is trying to take the party to court over it and challenge the decision.

He appeared to get some support for his argument from Lewis.

In a statement Wednesday, she said she thought the party made the wrong call. Only members should have a say in whether someone can or can’t lead, she said.

“Disqualifying candidates for beliefs or viewpoints weakens confidence in our democratic process,” she said.

“If candidate Jim Karahalios met the donation and signature requirements, then a disqualification should only happen if there is a clear violation of the rules.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

politics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Retired city manager Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the Molly Banister Drive right-of-way at Tuesday's public hearing. He warns of future gridlock if the extension is removed by city council. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Former Red Deer city manager warns killing the Molly Banister Drive extension is ‘a terrible mistake’

Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the road alignment at next week’s public hearing

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

A Red Deer County man was arrested for drug possession by Innisfail RCMP on April 19. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Property crime and drugs top Red Deer RCMP priorities in new plan

2020-2022 Policing Priorities Plan going to city council on Monday

RCMP estimate about 500 people gathered on the weekend near Garrington Bridge along the Red Deer River, in a July 28, 2020 story. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Second person charged for alleged assault at anti-racism rally in Red Deer

A second person is facing charges following an alleged assault during an… Continue reading

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vice-president Bonnie Gustola criticized provincial government layoffs at a rally that drew more than 80 people at City Hall Park on Friday.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
More than 80 rally in Red Deer against government health, education cutbacks

Rally at City Hall Park organized by the Council for Canadians

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

New voluntary measures, including the encouragement of more mask wearing, have been introduced in the Edmonton health zone. “Red Deer has been very fortunate to have relatively low case numbers . . . relative to the rest of the province and the country,” says Mayor Tara Veer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
POLL: Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball World Series Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Inter Miami defender Ben Sweat, left, and Montreal Impact attacker Maximiliano Urruti fight for the ball during their MLS soccer match, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Rested Montreal Impact looking to collect points with big finish to regular season

Rested Montreal Impact looking to collect points with big finish to regular season

Mariah Bell of the United States, competes during women's short program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Nathan Chen dominates again in Skate America short program

Nathan Chen dominates again in Skate America short program

Lanto Griffin putts on the ninth hole during the second round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Thomas has a fast start for a 65 and a 1-shot lead at Zozo

Thomas has a fast start for a 65 and a 1-shot lead at Zozo

Mariah Bell of the United States, competes during women's short program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Bell, Tennell go 1-2 in Skate America short program

Bell, Tennell go 1-2 in Skate America short program

Team Saskatchewan skip Matt Dunstone flips his broom in frustration following a shot as they take on Team Alberta in the playoffs at the Brier in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday, March 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Team Matt Dunstone considers relocation due to restrictions in Saskatchewan

Team Matt Dunstone considers relocation due to restrictions in Saskatchewan

Most Read