OTTAWA—The Conservative Party of Canada will wait until Sept. 10 to pick a new leader, providing more time for prospective candidates to mount their campaigns, including former Quebec premier Jean Charest.
Charest met with about 40 MPs and senators Wednesday evening before the rules of the contest were announced several hours later. He said he was waiting to see the rules before making a decision.
“You’ll remember that two years ago I came to the conclusion that the campaign would not have been viable because there wasn’t enough time for me to go out there to introduce myself to the membership and to recruit new members, so that’ll be part of what we’ll be looking for is are the rules viable,” he said.
“Do they allow us to do a real campaign and get ourselves known.”
Among the decisions Conservatives on the committee had to make was opting for a shorter contest or a longer one — a decision many said would determine how many candidates would decide to enter the race, such as those not currently serving as MPs and who may run on single issues.
So far, the only candidate that has declared himself to be running is Pierre Poilievre, a well-known Ottawa-area MP with a reputation for fiery performances in Parliament.
As Charest met behind closed doors and fielded questions from curious MPs Wednesday evening, Conservatives got a taste of what a race with Poilievre may look like.
Shannon Stubbs, a Poilievre supporter, tweeted out an image of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Charest, attacking him for supporting carbon pricing and the long-gun registry.
“I’m with grassroots Conservative Party members. Our leader must share our values, and respect our policies. I’m against the carbon tax, the long-gun registry, and for tax cuts, not tax takes,” she wrote.
Charest, a former leader of the Quebec Liberal and federal Progressive Conservative parties, didn’t respond when asked about him being attacked as a Liberal. Caucus members who attended brushed it off as political gamesmanship.
Gerard Deltell, a prominent Quebec MP who is backing a Charest run, said he believes it’s better to stick to speaking positively about your own candidate.
The party says candidates will have until April 19 to throw their hats into the ring.
The entry fee will be $200,000, on top of a $100,000 deposit to ensure they comply with the rules, which will be refunded after the contest is over.
That is the same amount of money needed to enter the last leadership race in 2020, which saw Erin O’Toole take the helm of the party.
Membership applications must be in by June 3 and ballots will begin going out to Conservative party members.
Among the people who came to hear Charest speak Wednesday were some from Saskatchewan and Alberta, provinces home to the party’s staunchly conservative base.
Saskatoon MP Kevin Waugh acknowledged that as a former premier of Quebec, it would be tough for Charest to run in his province.
Others who attended included some of the party’s newest members sent to Ottawa in last September’s federal election.
“Mr. Charest is very, very inspirational and quite honestly, I think that’s what the country needs right now,” said Nova Scotia’s Dr. Stephen Ellis.
“There are people that have an ‘it’ factor and there are people who don’t — and he has an ‘it’ factor.”
Earlier that day, Conservative MP and former leadership contender Michael Chong said that he hasn’t ruled out another potential run for the job.
In 2017, he placed fifth in the crowded race to replace former Conservative leader and prime minister Stephen Harper, in which Andrew Scheer was ultimately elected.
Chong told reporters his first priority now is his foreign affairs critic role, which he holds as Canada and other world powers respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The second focus, he said, is “thinking about, in the coming weeks, what I can do to help my party and my country.”
As Conservatives wait to find out their options for party leader, many of their 119 MPs have already thrown their support behind Poilievre.
Others considering running include Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who formerly led Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, and Leslyn Lewis, the Ontario MP who placed third behind former leader Erin O’Toole in the 2020 contest, thanks to considerable backing from social conservatives and members from Western Canada.
The lack of official party rules until late Wednesday hasn’t stopped different camps of Conservatives from coalescing around prospective candidates and Poilievre from kicking off his fundraising.
He’s also been hitting the road. He attended an event in Montreal earlier in the week and on Friday plans to hold a rally in Regina.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2022.
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