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Montreal businessman Fournier, who manages $55-billion in assets, considering run at Conservative leadership

By Abbas Rana      

Daniel Fournier will have an advantage over other leadership candidates in raising funds because of his business connections, say Conservatives.

Daniel Fournier, pictured at the Canadian Club on Sept. 21, 2015, is said to be mulling over running for the Conservative leadership, although his office said he is not running. Photograph courtesy of Muntchak, Wikipedia
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PARLIAMENT HILL—Daniel Fournier, a well-known Montreal businessman, Rhodes scholar, former CFL football player, and president of an international real estate investment company with assets worth $55-billion, is considering running for the Conservative Party’s leadership, sources told The Hill Times.

Mr. Fournier, 62, chair and chief executive officer of Ivanhoé Cambridge, a real estate subsidiary of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, is mulling over entering the crowded field of Conservative Party leadership candidates in the coming weeks.

A graduate of Princeton University and an Oxford University Rhodes scholar, Mr. Fournier, who was not available for an interview last week, also played professional football for the Ottawa Rough Riders.

One source familiar with behind-the-scenes consultations, put the odds of Mr. Fournier, who is from the Progressive Conservative wing of the Conservative Party, seeking the party’s top job at 70 per cent. The source described it as a tough decision for the Montreal businessman, considering his engagement in the ongoing “heavy duty” international business deals.

As to why Mr. Fournier is taking so long to make a final decision, the source said he’s looking at his potential candidacy from personal, political and business angles and it’s not an easy decision.

“It’s a bigger commitment, it’s a bigger risk,” said the source. “He’s a very different kind of candidate. It’s more old school, old-style politics where people are successful in business or law and they’ve always had a niche for public policy or to give back and run in politics. That’s what people did years ago. They only got into politics when they were accomplished and had been leaders in other walks of life and then they got into politics. This is what we’re dealing with here. He’s not a 37-year-old Member of Parliament.”

Because of Mr. Fournier’s business connections in major urban centres and longtime behind-the-scenes involvement in the Conservative Party, the source said, one of Mr. Fournier’s key strengths will be to raise funds, which so far is proving to be a tough job for the 16 candidates who have either entered the race or are considering running. The source said if Mr. Fournier threw his hat in the ring, he would have a “top notch” national campaign team in place to hit the ground running on day one.

“It’s almost a national team of friends—Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax—encouraging him to run,” the source said.

But Sébastien Théberge, a spokesman for Ivanhoé Cambridge in an email to The Hill Times, said Mr. Fournier will not run.

“Mr. Fournier does not intend to be a candidate,” wrote Mr. Théberge, vice-president public affairs and media relations, in the email.

“He considers his role at Ivanhoé Cambridge to be a privilege and a great responsibility. He wants to continue working on Ivanhoé Cambridge’s global growth. This requires all of his energy, focus, and attention, seven days a week.”

But Conservative sources confirmed to The Hill Times last week that Mr. Fournier is considering running for the leadership.

No stranger to politics, Mr. Fournier ran unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Montreal area riding of Outremont. He came in fourth place behind the Liberal, Bloc Québécois, and New Democratic Party candidates. But Mr. Fournier is said to be interested in public service. Back in 2006, he talked about the direction of the party with a number of Conservatives, including Peter Laugheed, John Tory, Preston Manning, Tony Clement, Pat Binns, and Jim Dinning, according to his Wikipedia page. A social liberal, Mr. Fournier initially joined the Liberal Party, but later joined the Conservative Party for its fiscal policies.

The riding of Outremont has historically been a strong Liberal riding since its creation in mid-1930s. Until the 2007 byelection which was triggered by the resignation of former Liberal MP Jean Lapierre, the riding had always elected Liberal candidates. The only exception until that time was the 1988 general election when Progressive Conservative candidate Jean-Pierre Hogue won the riding. Since the 2007 byelection, the riding has been represented by the NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Around 16 Conservatives are known to be interested in seeking the party leadership or have officially entered the contest. Of those, 12 are registered candidates including Conservative MPs Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.), Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.), Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.), Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Ont.), Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.), Steven Blaney (Bellechasse -Les Etchemins -Lévis, Que.), Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University, Sask.), Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), and Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.). Former Conservative MPs Chris Alexander and Andrew Saxton, and Manitoba physician Dan Lindsay are also registered candidates. Three potential candidates, as of deadline last week, had declared their intention to run but had not officially entered the race, including former Conservative MP Pierre Lemieux, Vancouver venture capitalist Rick Peterson and Toronto communications consultant Adrienne Snow.

Businessman and TV personality Kevin O’Leary has also publicly mused about the possibility of seeking the Conservative Party leadership but as of last week had not registered with the party, however, he told The Hill Times in this week’s issue that he will decide by the end of the year.

The Conservative Party has organized five leadership debates between November and April 2017 with the first English debate to take place in Saskatoon on Nov. 9. The second will be a bilingual debate and will be held in Moncton, N.B., on Dec. 6. Dates and locations of the remaining three debates were not known by deadline.

The spending limit for the Conservative Party contest that started on March 8 is $5-million. Considering the fundraising numbers so far, it appears highly unlikely any of the candidates already in the race will be able to raise $5-million.

According to Elections Canada, Ms. Leitch is leading the pack in raising funds for the leadership in the first two quarters since the start of the race. By Sept. 30, she had raised a total of $450,421, followed by Mr. Bernier who had raised $427,508. Mr. Chong raised $208,913 and Mr. Obhrai raised $1,100.

Elections Canada did not have any fundraising numbers for Mr. Scheer, Mr. Trost, Mr. O’Toole, Mr. Blaney, Mr. Saxton and Mr. Alexander, who either officially entered the race after Sept. 30, or were not approved by the party as official candidates by the end of September.

For the May 27, 2017, Conservative Party leadership contest, each candidate is required to pay $100,000 to the party—$50,000 for registration and a $50,000 compliance deposit. Candidates can register with the party until Feb. 24 if they want to take part in the leadership election. For the contest, each electoral district association has 100 points and the voting will take place using the preferential ballot system.

The Conservative source told The Hill Times that Mr. Fournier knew prior to deciding to run in the 2006 election that he wouldn’t win in the strong Liberal riding, but wanted to give the then-newly merged Conservative Party credibility by running. The 2006 federal election was the second after the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance Parties merged in late 2003. In the 2004 federal election, the Conservative Party won 99 seats nationally, but did not win any of the 75 seats in Quebec. In the 2006 election, Conservatives won a minority government with 124 seats nationally including 10 in Quebec.

When the Conservatives, under Stephen Harper, formed government in 2006, Mr. Fournier was offered a Senate position as the first step to include him in Cabinet. But he declined the offer and Mr. Harper appointed Michael Fortier to the Senate and also to his Cabinet.

Keith Beardsley, former deputy chief of staff in Mr. Harper’s PMO, told The Hill Times last week that one key obstacle to Mr. Fournier’s potential candidacy would be the lack of name recognition. He said most of the other candidates, especially incumbent MPs, are well-known political figures to the Conservative Party base that is going to select the next party leader. Also, Mr. Beardsley pointed out that if the Montreal businessman decided to run, he would be a late entrant in the race compared to early entrants such as Mr. Bernier, Mr. Chong and Ms. Leitch who have already laid down the organizational foundation of their campaigns and have already signed up thousands of new members.

“A lot of this is going to be name recognition,” said Mr. Beardsley. “People know Andrew Scheer, they know Lisa Raitt, Erin O’Toole. They know those names because they’ve seen them, they’ve seen them perform. When you’re an outsider, you’re coming in [at a] big disadvantage.”

Mr. Beardsley said should Mr. Fournier enter the race, leadership candidates will most likely attack him for being one of the “elites” because of his business background and studying in high-profile universities.

“They’re going to say he’s one of the elites. I could see their talk points coming up right now,” said Mr. Beardsley.

Conservative MPs said they’re not concerned about Mr. Fournier’s potential candidacy.

“Anyone who wishes to run, I encourage to run,” said Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan, Sask.) who is supporting Mr. Scheer. “I like to hear different perspectives, I like to hear different viewpoints. It’s healthy for the party,”

Conservative MP Alex Nuttall (Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, Ont.), membership chairman of Mr. Bernier’s campaign, also expressed similar views regarding Mr. Fournier’s potential candidacy. He said no matter who enters or exits the race, Mr. Bernier’s message will remain the same.

“Maxime’s message been very clear from the beginning, which is, ‘We believe Canadians deserve more opportunities and we’re going to continue talking about that across the country,’ ” said Mr. Nuttall.

Last month, several Conservative MPs told The Hill Times that, considering the crowded field of candidates, no one is likely to win on the first ballot and that one of the toughest challenges of the campaign is raising funds.

Last week, Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), who is supporting Mr. Chong, said he expects some candidates to drop out of the race in the coming weeks because of failing to connect with the Conservative Party members on policy issues and also for failing to raise enough funds to keep the leadership campaign going.

“[The number of candidates] will whittle down quite quickly,” said Mr. Kent. “Once the debates begin, once the policy positions are taken, we’re going to see some very clear and different policy positions taken. And as they’re taken, the profile of those individuals will either rise or diminish.”

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