Canada’s conservatives prepare to anoint new leader as race to replace Andrew Scheer draws to a close

By Scott Costen

AS Andrew Scheer made his final House of Commons appearance as opposition leader August 12, the ballots that will determine his successor were being dropped into mailboxes across Canada.

Nearly 270,000 Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) members were eligible to receive voting packages.

Completed ballots must be received in Ottawa by August 21 so they can be counted in time for a live online leadership announcement August 23.

The Covid-19 pandemic made in-person leadership rallies and town halls impossible for much of the leadership campaign, but candidates found other ways to connect with prospective supporters.

The party successfully held two debates, one in each official language, despite the challenges posed by strict public health orders around public gatherings and social distancing.

READ MORE: Trumpian politics seep north of the border as Canada’s conservatives gear up for leadership election

Columnist and political commentator Dan Leger says the CPC deserves credit for mounting a viable leadership contest in trying times.

“You have to have to hand it to the Conservatives for plugging away in the middle of a pandemic that’s thrown every possible social interaction in our lives into reverse almost,” he told Redaction Politics.

That sentiment was echoed by Kristopher Snarby, a CPC member in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

“I think they’ve done as well as could have been expected,” he said. “There’s no handbook for running a leadership race during a pandemic.”

Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole, who both served as cabinet ministers under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are the clear front-runners in the race.

The two other candidates, social conservatives Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan, are poised to become kingmakers if there is no winner after the first round.

In the 2019 general election, the Scheer-led CPC won the popular vote and reduced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to minority status.

But the outgoing Conservative leader ran a largely uninspiring campaign and was repeatedly on the defensive over his socially conservative views on abortion and LGBTQIA+ issues.

Scheer’s inability to take down Trudeau, who was neck-deep in political and personal scandal, made the search for a new Conservative leader all but inevitable.

READ MORE: CPC Leadership: Frontrunner solidifies lead in contest to replace Andrew Scheer

According to a party news release, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta had the largest percentage membership growth during the leadership campaign.

But the contest’s ranked balloting system means each of Canada’s 338 electoral districts is worth the same 100 points regardless of how many, or how few, party members they have.

This equally weighted approach – the same one used to elect Scheer in 2017 – is designed to be inclusive of every region in Canada.

But it also dilutes the votes of party members in key CPC strongholds, Leger said.

“I think it’s the kind of measure that was enacted in good faith,” he said. “If there are tens of thousands of Conservative members in Calgary … (they) might feel under-represented when it comes to choosing the leader.”

CPC members can vote for as few or as many candidates as they like, in order of preference.

Snarby told Redaction Politics he took advantage of this ranked ballot feature to exclude a leadership hopeful he finds completely unpalatable.

“I ended up ranking three of them,” he said. “One is an absolute no, there’s no way I could ever support that candidate.”

Whoever wins the leadership will face a number of pandemic-related limitations, including reduced House sittings.

With the Trudeau government in a minority situation — and with the leader of the Bloc Québécois musing about toppling the Liberals in the fall — the new CPC leader will also have to focus on election preparedness.

Whenever that election comes, Leger predicts the new Conservative leader will find it difficult to knock the pandemic halo from above the prime minister’s head.

“Whoever is the leader, is not going to be the person that can say, ‘I was there at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19,’” Leger said.

“Justin Trudeau is the guy who’s going to be able to say that, for better or worse, and that’s going to be the number one topic in the next federal election.”

Next week, Redaction will be publishing an episode of our podcast reviewing the CPC leadership election.

Featured Image: Andrew Scheer @Flickr

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