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Kellie Leitch wants to be lightning rod, Raitt looking to future, says Nik Nanos

By Tim Naumetz      

Conservative Party will face a choice between a new path, and old tactics, says the veteran pollster.

'I think it would be fair to say that Kellie Leitch is trying to win on the old franchise, ‘let’s be focused, let’s be super efficient at delivering our vote, and let’s practise wedge politics,' said pollster Nik Nanos. 'What’s clear is that Lisa Raitt is trying to position herself as someone who can take the party into the future.' The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright

The only two women in a current field of 12 Conservative leadership candidates could emerge as the leading options for the Tory rank and file as voting day nears, says Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos.

The choice will likely be clear, Mr. Nanos told The Hill Times on the eve of the contest’s first all-candidates debate in Saskatoon Wednesday.

The Saskatoon event is billed as the first English-language debate for the contest, and the next debate is scheduled to take place in Moncton next month and is designated bilingual. The leadership vote is scheduled for May 27, 2017.

Mr. Nanos predicted Conservative MP Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.), who only a few days after entering the race rejected fellow candidate and Conservative MP Kellie Leitch’s (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.) controversial proposal that refugees and immigrants should be screened for Canadian values, will base her campaign as someone looking forward, rather than to the past.

“I think it would be fair to say that Kellie Leitch is trying to win on the old franchise, ‘let’s be focused, let’s be super efficient at delivering our vote, and let’s practice wedge politics,” Mr. Nanos said in a review of contrasting reaction from the public and other candidates to Ms. Leitch’s view-plumbing, which also questioned whether Canada should respond to terrorist threats at home with therapy and counselling, or with incarceration.

Proposing values-screening for immigrants and refugees, later expanded to all visitors to Canada, shook up the leadership contest through September. Six of Ms. Leitch’s opponents, after Ms. Raitt threw her hat in last week, opposed the notion.

“What’s clear is that Lisa Raitt is trying to position herself as someone who can take the party into the future,” Mr. Nanos said in a phone interview Monday from London, England, where he was attending to firm business.

The veteran pollster predicted the Conservative leadership campaign could become a contest between political polar opposites—Ms. Leitch and Ms. Raitt, who has three more years of experience in the Commons than Ms. Leitch.

“It’s not just a battle for the hearts and minds of Conservatives, it’s a battle of two fundamentally different strategies and two different paths for the Conservative Party,” said Mr. Nanos.

“There is potential for anyone who wants to be the counterpoint for Kellie Leitch, because Kellie Leitch has decided that she is going to be the lightning rod for the campaign, and she wants to harness that to win,” Mr. Nanos said.

“The question is, who is going to be the key challenger to Kellie Leitch?” he said. “I think this is where Lisa Raitt is trying to come in.”

Ms. Raitt has counselled for months, well before the leadership officially began, that economic and government fiscal developments will make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vulnerable sooner than most might have thought after the stunning Liberal win in 2015, and the star status Mr. Trudeau later assumed around the world.

In a CTV Question Period interview last weekend with host Evan Solomon when she aired her views on Ms. Leitch’s values screening, Ms. Raitt also revealed an approach to policy that helped to evoke the opinions Mr. Nanos expressed.

“The place for any debate around immigration has to do with making sure that we bring immigrants to this country to help us grow the country,” said Ms. Raitt. “Putting something like a values test in that place, in that space, I think is going to have the opposite effect. It will chill people wanting to come here.”

“I don’t think it helps if you sign up on a questionnaire that says do you like freedom or maple syrup? I think those are the things that are actually not going to help us move forward as a country,” she told Mr. Solomon.

The CTV host unintentionally provoked Ms. Raitt’s 2019 timetable with his final question.

“If there’s one knock on Lisa Raitt, it’s French,” said Mr. Solomon.

“Could you carry on a press conference in French yet? How fluent are you?” asked Mr. Solomon, apparently aware that Ms. Raitt’s opponents have quietly mentioned her limited conversational French since well before she became a candidate.

“Can’t do a press conference yet, my French is not perfect, I work on it every day,” said Ms. Raitt.

“Your pledge is to be bilingual before when? Or at least functionally,” asked Mr. Solomon. “2019,” replied Ms. Raitt.

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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