It is finally here.
The Conservative Party of Canada will announce its next leader in Ottawa tonight, after candidates and supporters spent the last seven months in its third leadership contest in six years.
As the candidates wait at the finish line, party members have their eyes not only on who will win, but also on the margin of victory.
Expectations are high for veteran Tory Pierre Poilievre, who ran a populist campaign around the theme of “freedom” in his bid to win the top prize.
Can he pull off a rare first-round victory?
“I think he can,” said Garry Keller, a former Conservative staffer whose roles included serving as chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, who served as the party’s interim leader after Prime Minister Stephen Harper resigned. .
Poilievre would be the first to do so since Harper won in the first round in 2004 in the party’s first leadership race.
Such a victory would be good for party unity as it signals a clear direction, Keller said. “Everything is united behind one person.”
The party uses a points system to tally the more than 400,000 votes that were cast before Tuesday’s polling deadline.
Candidates are awarded points based on the share of votes they receive in each of Canada’s 338 electoral districts. Whoever scores more than 50% of the points wins.
It also uses a ranked ballot, which means members mark their preferred choice for leader from first to last.
If there is no clear winner when the ballots are first counted, the candidate with the least support is eliminated and the votes he received from the supporters who selected them first are transferred to the candidates. that these members chose second.
In 2020, it took former leader Erin O’Toole three counting laps to cross the threshold of victory.
In the crowded 2017 race, Andrew Scheer was only victorious over presumptive favorite Maxime Bernier on the 13th ballot.
But things are different now.
Poilievre faces just four other candidates and throughout the race drew crowds in the thousands with his stance against inflation, COVID-19 vaccination mandates and all things Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. .
He used that momentum to sell 300,000 memberships, according to his campaign, and leveraged social media after spending years raising money to reach supporters and collect data.
Of the 118 other MPs in the party, 62 support him.
In recent weeks, Poilievre’s campaign has focused on aggressively ensuring that those who register to vote for him actually vote – part of an overall philosophy of taking nothing for granted.
If they needed lessons on the importance of that, they had only to look at the fortunes of Bernier in 2017 and Peter MacKay in 2020, who were presumed to be the former when they ran for the top. but ultimately lost.
One of the main battlegrounds in this year’s competition is Quebec, where Poilievre’s main competitor is the province’s former premier, Jean Charest.
Charest spent the contest running for a new generation of Conservatives after being absent from federal politics for more than 20 years and leaving provincial office in 2012.
Charest’s campaign has said it believes it has enough support in Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada to get the points he needs to win, a win the campaign admits would be narrow.
Another factor on which the Charest campaign is counting is the support of party members led by another centrist candidate, Patrick Brown. The mayor of Brampton, Ont., was disqualified from the race in July due to an allegation that he broke federal election law, which he denied.
Brown had focused on seeking support in the nation’s immigrant communities, a strategy Charest has adopted since the ousting.
With Brown’s name still on the ballot, all voters who ranked him first will have their votes counted for their second-choice picks.
Keller said he’s also curious to see how Leslyn Lewis performs. The MP surprised many with her strong performance when she entered the 2020 contest as a relative unknown, then ended up placing third behind O’Toole and winning Saskatchewan.
As in the last race, she enjoys the support of the well-mobilized social conservative wing of the party, in part because of its opposition to abortion.
But Keller said with fewer contestants, she and Poilievre were fishing in the same pond. They have overlapping appeal, for different reasons.
“There’s a group of people who might say, ‘I really like Leslyn Lewis,'” he said. “‘I like what she represents. But I really like Pierre Poilievre. So she’s going to be my second choice, but Pierre is my first choice.’
Rural Ontario MP Scott Aitchison and former Ontario legislator Roman Baber are the two new faces of the race.
Aitchison, a former small-town mayor who was first elected as an MP in 2019, campaigned on the theme of restoring decency in politics and exposed conspiracy theories that have become common in some conservative circles, such as those of the World Economic Forum and vaccines against COVID-19.
Baber was best known before the leadership race for being kicked out of Premier Doug Ford’s caucus after speaking out against COVID-19 lockdowns in January 2021 – a decision he has spent the campaign pointing to as evidence that he respects his convictions.
The final ranking of the five will be unveiled at an event in downtown Ottawa in a darker atmosphere than originally expected, reflecting the country’s mourning after the Queen’s death on Thursday.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 10, 2022.