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Poilievre’s supporters push for a swift race to choose next Conservative leader

Supporters of Pierre Poilievre’s bid for the Conservative Party leadership are calling on the party’s caucus and one member of its Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) to hold the race quickly.

Conservative New Brunswick MP John Williamson sent an email Wednesday to all Conservative MPs and to Warren Steinley — a Saskatchewan MP and member of the LEOC — calling for a vote no later than July 1.

“It is my belief we should have a leader in place for the start of summer, which for me is ahead of Canada Day,” Williamson says in the email, obtained by CBC News. “That’s four months from now, giving the leadership contenders ample time to campaign and sign up new members.

“Because we are in a minority Parliament, our next leader should be given the summer to prepare [the Office of the Leader of the Opposition], appoint staff at HQ as well as a campaign team, and tour the country ahead of Parliament’s return in September.”

Some Conservatives say Williamson’s email is an attempt to tilt the table in favour of his preferred candidate.

Williamson came out in support of Poilievre in early February, tweeting that the Ontario MP has his “full support.”

Observers say a quick race would work in Poilievre’s favour. His strong support among current party members made him the early frontrunner, while other candidates would need time to sign up new members.

One Conservative who doesn’t support Poilievre’s leadership bid (and spoke on the condition they not be named) said the Conservative Party of Canada would be damaged by a Poilievre coronation undermining its identify as a grassroots party.

While Poilievre is the only declared candidate to date, others have expressed interest.

poilievres supporters push for a swift race to choose next conservative leader
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest is expected to run for the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership. (Ivanhoe Demers/Radio-Canada)

Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and ex-leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, is preparing a run, according to party sources who spoke with Radio-Canada.

Sources told Radio-Canada that National Post columnist and political consultant Tasha Kheiriddin is also expected to mount a campaign. So is Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., and former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party.

Leslyn Lewis, MP for Haldimand—Norfolk in southwestern Ontario and an ally of the party’s social conservative wing, finished third in the last leadership race. She’s also said to be preparing a team for her leadership bid.

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Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis is said to be preparing another leadership bid. (Tijana Martin / Canadian Press)

Williamson said his proposed timeline is perfectly fair to other potential candidates.

“Four months doesn’t work against any of the serious leadership contenders — Brown, Charest, Poilievre, plus possibly another MP from caucus,” he told CBC News.

“Conservatives governed Canada efficiently and wisely for ten years until 2015, and the Conservative Party should be able to administer a leadership race in four months. Ontario PCs recently did it in less time. Our LEOC members should set the race rules and timelines in the coming days so candidates can get to work.”

‘A strong sense of urgency’

The LEOC — which decides the date and rules for the leadership race — was appointed only last week.

In an email to CBC News, Conservative Party president Rob Batherson said the committee has started its work already. 

“LEOC is applying a strong sense of urgency in preparing the rules and procedures of the vote and setting the date for the vote, while respecting the many different points of view that are being advanced by Conservatives across the country,” he said.

Nothing in the Conservative Party’s constitution says the 21 members of the LEOC must come up with both a date for a leadership vote and campaign rules within a set timeframe.

In 2015, after Stephen Harper resigned as leader on Oct. 19, the LEOC was struck on Jan. 8 and the race was underway on March 8.

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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper walks off the stage after addressing the crowd on election night in 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

After Andrew Scheer stepped down as leader on Dec. 12, 2019, the LEOC was appointed on Dec. 24 and the race was underway on Jan. 13.

“LEOC is mindful that the leadership election must be done in a timely manner to reflect the realities of a minority Parliament, as was the approach taken by the party in 2020,” Batherson said.

Alberta MP Chris Warkentin, who also supports Poilievre, said the party needs to pick a new leader quickly.

“That isn’t just John Williamson. It is a significant portion of caucus who want this,” he said.

“We have given up several summers campaigning and MPs would like the summer to get on with normal life. And we have to be ready to fight an election as early as fall.”

‘Four months is plenty of time’

Jamie Ellerton is principal at the public relations firm Conaptus and worked on Conservative campaigns and causes for 18 years. He said the party can’t afford to waste time.

“The Conservative Party leadership race is no place for participatory ribbons and unserious contenders pontificating on a soapbox,” said Ellerton, who added he’s not working with any leadership campaign.

“If a leadership candidate cannot get organized in four months for an internal party affair, how can they credibly claim they will be ready to lead in the event of a snap election caused by Trudeau’s minority government falling apart?

“Four months is plenty of time to run an engaging campaign, engage and persuade Canadians and determine a winner before July 1. This would give the new leader the summer to get organized in their new role, build out a team and create a comprehensive strategy to be ready to lead when the House of Commons resumes in September.”

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