Counting The Ballots

It’s the biggest turnout for a party leadership vote in Canadian history. A day before the deadline more than 150,000 ballots had been received at Conservative Party headquarters.

(Don’t tell Donald Trump – it was a mail-in contest.)

When the leadership contest started I had intended to devote the occasional post to the campaign. That really hasn’t happened. Blame COVID. Like you, my mind has focused elsewhere. And not being in Canada has made it seem less urgent, though not less important.

Tonight we find out which of the four candidates in the ballot will be the new leader and potentially the next Prime Minister the announcement will be in the middle of the night my time, but I think I’m going to stay up for it.

In 2017 I felt from the outset that Andrew Scheer would be the party’s choice. He wasn’t flashy, but a nice guy from a nice family (I knew his parents) who knows how to work with people. It took 13 rounds of voting, but Andrew did indeed prevail. But the country didn’t warm to him.

This time around I am unsure who will be the winner. Several strong candidates decided not to run. Several others I liked wound up not meeting the threshold necessary to be on the final ballot.

If you haven’t been following the race, here’s a quick capsule of the four candidates:

The front-runner is Peter Mackay. Son of a cabinet minister and a cabinet minister himself for a decade, he retired from politics five years ago but is now back and wants to be Prime Minister. On Thursday I was talking with one of the MPs supporting him. He expects Mackay to get at least 45 per cent on the first ballot if not to win it outright.

While Mackay has a reasonably good track record, he also has a lot of political baggage. He also put me off by starting his leadership campaign during the last federal election. If he had supported Andrew Scheer instead of working to undermine him, Scheer might today be Prime Minister.

Erin O’Toole is a former cabinet minister, a former military officer and current MP who finished third in the 2017 race. He’s positioned himself well as the alternative to Mackay, and has pointed out he knows how to win in urban areas where Conservatives have not fared well the past couple of elections. He’s a natural leader, engaging and interesting to talk with. He seems like he has the most fleshed-out policy ideas and he is, as he reminds people, election-ready.

Derek Sloan is a first-term MP who has positioned himself as the social conservative conscience of the party. He and I have a lot of common ground on the issues. However his approach to the campaign has appeared, tpo me anyway, mean-spirited. He makes more noise about the things he opposes than the things he supports. I figure if he has managed to turn me off, he will turn off average voters even more. There’s no point in being right if no-one will listen to your message. He will never be Prime Minister unless he has a change of heart and learns a little humility. He’s the only candidate who final placement I am sure of. He will finish fourth.

Leslyn Lewis is the wild card in this political deck. She has never held elected office. When the campaign began no+one knew who she was. But the support she has received across the country has been tremendous. She’s probably the smartest of the four, with a Doctorate in law and a Master’s in environmental studies. She’s an immigrant and a visible minority – not the old white male conservative stereotype. She has refused to attack her opponents and instead has offered “courage, compassion and common sense.” She probably has more voter appeal than the other three, but this contest is decided by party members, not the electorate. Her French is almost non-existent, which is problematic. And she may win the popular vote and still lose the leadership – the system works much like the US electoral college – and we know what sort of aberrations that can produce.

It’s a ranked ballot, with the bottom name dropped until someone has a majority. Sloan, as I said, will only be around for the first round. After that, who knows. O’Toole has said Lewis is his second choice. Mackay, as I understand it, has told his supporters to vote only for him, no second choice.

If Mackay is indeed the front-runner and Sloan finishes fourth on the first ballot, the outcome will depend perhaps on the second and third rankings. Most of Sloan’s supporters will have Lewis as their second choice. I suspect O’Toole’s will also.

The suspense is why I am willing to lose sleep to find out who the winner will be. Politics is one of the great spectator sports – and it has a huge impact on our lives.

There was no suspense last week in watching the US Democratic convention. We’ve known for months Joe Biden was going to be the presidential nominee.

So too with the upcoming Republican convention. Can you imagine a scenario where Donald Trump isn’t their candidate? So why would you watch?

I suppose I should go out on a limb and make a prediction for tonight’s winner. My heart says Leslyn Lewis will win, but my head says it will be Erin O’Toole.

Not too many hours until we find out.



  1. Neil Remington Abramson · · Reply

    As I understand, Mr O’Toole won because he appealed strongly to social conservatives. As the two most socially conservative candidates were eliminated, most of their supporters supported Mr O’Toole. He now owes them big time for his victory.

    My problem is that I am not a social conservative. I am a fiscal conservative but socially liberal. I am what used to be called a Progressive Conservative. I am one of the PCs who voted to unite the PC party with the Reform to form the Conservative Party of Canada. Mr MacKay was the leader of the PCs at the time of the unification.

    If Mr O’Toole advocates a socially conservative platform, I will probably evaluate whether to support him based on the fiscal conservatism of his platform. So far, he claims to be ok with LGBTQ rights and abortion which I think good. I am also very pro gun control, pro international trade including with China (anything sounding racist is anathema to me), and less pro getting kicked around by the USA. We need to reduce Canadian dependence on the USA.

    I.would prefer to see Mr Trudeau defeated but not by a too socially conservative alternative. I will vote for the most progressive conservative candidate regardless of party affiliation. I know only a small percentage of voters are not committed to a single party affiliation. However, I understand they are the ones that may result in a majority government.

    1. From what I know, I think you will be mostly pleased by O’Toole’s approach. He too would be, I think, more fiscally conservative that socially conservative.

      Not that I am a big fan of labels. All too often they tend to divide us rather than unite us.

  2. Stephen Martin · · Reply

    Good call!

    1. With only four candidates the path to victory for each of them seemed easy to map out. Everyone I talked to seemed to like Erin O’Toole. Not that many liked Mackay – but the media insisted he was the electoral savior. Conservatives are frequently distrustful of media darlings..

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