Decision Day

The announcement will be made this evening, naming a new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and presumably the next Prime Minister, given that Justin Trudeau has supposedly told his caucus he will stay and fight another election.

After six months of campaigning and almost 700,000 party memberships sold, all that is left is the big reveal. Party members sent in a ranked ballot, which may mean a certain amount of suspense – especially given that the formula is akin to the US electoral college. You can win the popular vote and still lose the election. 

So I thought today I would rate the campaigns, with the candidates listed in alphabetical order.

Scott Aitchison 

I’d never heard of this backbench MP and former small-town mayor before he declared his candidacy. Given that I follow politics, that set him firmly in the underdog category. To win a leadership vote people need to know who you are. If you enter with a low profile, that can be tought to overcome. I figured if I didn’t know him, few others did.

Aitchison has run an impressive campaign. He has stayed away from mudslinging and concentrated on issues, putting his policy ideas out there to be judged.  He should have been a serious contender, but this is 2022 – volume is all-important in political campiagns.

Still, he has earned a lot of respect and should be in line for a major cabinet post when the Consevatives form government.

Projection: Aitchison will finish no higher than fourth. His supporters are most likely to have put Jean Charest as their second choice.

Roman Baber

This former Ontario provincial politicians is really big on freedom. He feels it is under assault in Canada, and he’s going to return freedom to the people. He makes some valid points, but too often it seems to me that his ideas stem almost exclusively from his personal experiences.

He’s against a lot of things, but doesn’t seem to have the policy breadth of his opponents. If you want the top job you’ll need to show the voters that you stand for things as well as being against them. He’ll battle Aitchison for that fourth spot.

Baber’s supporters will almost all have Pierre Poilievre as their second choice, as they have a similar list of things they oppose.

Patrick Brown

He was supposed to be a front-runner. I never could understand why – to me as an MP he was as anonymous as any of them. All the pundits said he would be in the top three, no worse than second place.

But his heart didn’t seem to be completely in the race. At one point he mused about running for re-election as Mayor of Brampton if he didn’t win the CPC leadership – but the deadline to file was last month. What would he do? Then he was disqualified.

The lawsuits will go on for years over that. And his disqualification was late – the ballots had alread been printed. The big question is whether the 100,000 or more new members he signed up voted for another candidate or gave up on politics as a bad business.

Brown pushed a centrist position with a strong outreach to the ethnic community, which is why the experts said he would do well. It seemed to me though that he was just a less expereinced version of Jean Charest.

Those Brown supporters who do cast a ballot will mostly vote for Charest. There were suggestions at the outset of the campaign that they would be supporting each other.

Jean Charest

He has billed himself as the only adult in the room, which is an overstatement with a touch of truth. He’s been around forever, it seems, but is only 64. He was Canadqa’s youngest ever cabinet minister back in the 1980s, before leaving federal politics to become Premier of Quebec.

He has run a campaign mostly of ideas, stressing the need for competent experienced leadership. His grasp of the issues Canada faces is perhaps second to none. His longevity may hurt him – the mood of many voters is anti-establishment and pro-change,

Charest supporters expect him to win. They didn’t mark a second choice on their ballots. Justin Trudeau doesn’t want to fight an election against him becasue he is such a seasoned campaigner who knows how to connect with the voters on a deeply persoanl level.

Leslyn Lewis

She finished third in the 2020 party leadership race as a complete unknown. On paper she would seem to be a dream candidate for one of the left-leaning parties; an immigrant of color, a small business owner with degrees in environmental studies and law. But she’s a conservative (as many immigrants are), a Christian who resisted pressure to have an abortion when she got pregnant at an inconvenient time. She doesn’t buy into the previaling Liberal mantra about abortion and sexuality or the environment. And she has the educational credentials to back up her positions.

In this race she has added experience as a Member of Parliament to her resume. She also has flirted with conspiracy theories in her campaign. When you look at her words though, she has been right on those issues, but the tone and timing have made some people uneasy. 

She has run a strong campaign, perhaps the most civil of all of them. She may be the best choice to bring the disparate wings of the party together in the aftermath of the vote – she hasn’t made many enemies as she has treated her opponents with respect.

If Lewis doesn’t make the final two, expect her voters to split between Charest and Poilievre. Justin Trudeau would probably relish campaigning against her because he sees her as inexperienced. The smart people on the Liberal team are concerned about how his past scandals about his treatment of women and wearing blackface will play out when he is faced with a strong Black woman opponent.

Pierre Poilievre

For the past four months the media have assumed the race was a coronation, with Poilievre too far out in front for anyone to catch him. His populist message has resonated with a lot of people – and his appeal with younger voters who don’t normally support the Conservative Party has Justin Trudeau scared. 

Poilievre though has run a sometimes mean-spirited campaign. He has denigrated his opponents, which will make party unity a challenge if he wins. 

He has years of experience, and a quick wit which is an asset on the campaign trail and has tapped into a lot of the grievance Canadians are feelining in the unending pandemic. Whether than can be translated into a positive message of change is debatable – and some of his policy proposals, such as firing the Governor of the Bank of Canada are, to put it politely, ill-advised.

His team sold the most memberships, almost half of the total. His supporters certainly expect him to win – they didn’t mark a second name on their ballots. 

Poilievre may win outright on the first ballot, given the number of new members he signed up. If he doesn’t, the subsequent ballots will be interesting. I don’t tsee him as many people’s second choice.

If Poilievre has 45 per cent on the first ballot, he should win handily. If not, he may find it difficult to get the votes he needs to go over the top.

Complicating matters is the points based system, similar to the US electoral college. It isn’t popular votes that decide, but capturing the majority vote in the 338 individual ridings. That is where Lewis and Charest see their path to victory, winning ridings where the membership may be lower than others but where their supporters are the most numerous. They are well aware that in 2020 Lewis led the popular vote on the second ballot and was still dropped off the list for the next (and final) one.

We’ll know the answer in a few hours. You can watch the announcement live by clicking on the link at the top or bottom of this post. Coverage starts at 6 p.m. EDT.

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