Next phase of Tory leadership race set to get underway
|Toronto Star 25 Mar 2020 at 19:50|
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 campaign in 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.
Neither had immediate comment.
The organizing committee for the leadership race 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. 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 race for candidates between now and the April cut-off is to sign up as many supporters as possible.
So far, though, 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.
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.