Five-term Conservative MP David Tilson informed Conservative Party leadership front-runner Kevin O’Leary at a private meeting last week that he would not vacate his seat for him if the businessman and reality-TV star won the party’s top job next month in Toronto.
In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Tilson (Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.)—who is supporting Conservative MP Michael Chong’s (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) leadership bid—denied ongoing rumours that if Mr. O’Leary won the party’s leadership, he would step aside for the new leader to have his riding.
Mr. Tilson, 76, said he has no idea how the rumour started but that he first read about it about it on a local political website, and other local newspapers later picked up on it.
“Rumours coming from the Dufferin-Caledon Conservative riding association suggest executives there are discussing a bid by Conservative front-runner Kevin O’Leary to replace Conservative MP David Tilson,” reported The Ribbon, a southern Ontario political website, last month. The Ribbon story was posted on National Newswatch on March 13.
Mr. Tilson is the oldest federal MP. He has been an MP for the last 13 years and was an Ontario MPP for 12 years before that.
He said he never told anyone, including his riding association members, that he has any plans not to seek re-election in 2019. He said neither Mr. O’Leary nor anyone from his campaign approached him to discuss the subject of vacating the seat should the businessman win the leadership.
Mr. Tilson said he met Mr. O’Leary last week for the first time in Ottawa. He declined to discuss any details of the meeting or why it took place—beyond his refusal to give up his seat—but said there were other Conservative MPs present at the private meeting.
“I said [to Mr. O’Leary], ‘I’m the guy that’s going to give up my seat for you,’ ” said Mr. Tilson. “Then I said ‘not. I have no intention of giving up my seat for you.’ I told him to his face.”
Mr. Tilson said he raised this issue with Mr. O’Leary just so there’s no confusion, and pointed out that Mr. O’Leary never raised the subject.
A spokesman for Mr. O’Leary said in an emailed response to The Hill Times that the campaign is currently only focused on winning the leadership, and if Mr. O’Leary wins, the team will then consider a riding.
“In terms of when and where Mr. O’Leary will be running, we are focused on this leadership campaign and we will be looking at a seat once this campaign is over,” said Ari Laskin, press secretary to Mr. O’Leary.
A former Ontario MPP from 1990 to 2002, Mr. Tilson was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004 and has been re-elected in every subsequent federal election. He won the 2004 election by a margin of 3.8 percentage points, but grew that to double-digit margins in the 2006, 2008, and 2011. In 2015, Mr. Tilson won by seven percentage points. A Liberal was in second place in each of these elections, except in 2011, when the Green Party was the runner-up.
Meanwhile, Mr. O’Leary told The Hill Times two weeks ago that if he didn’t win the May 27 leadership in Toronto, he won’t run for a House seat.
And if he won, he won’t be in a rush to win a House seat. Mr. O’Leary in the interview cited the example of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), saying that as third-place party leader in the House, he spent much of his time travelling across the country to making himself known to Canadians to win support for the party.
In this outreach, Mr. O’Leary pointed out, Mr. Trudeau went after the youth, which played a key role in the Liberal Party’s success in the last federal election. He said he might follow the same model.
“[Mr. Trudeau] basically went to universities, colleges, and technical schools and dragged that new constituency of the 18- to 35-year-old into the race and got 80 per cent of the vote from them, which is fantastic,” Mr. O’Leary said.
In addition to Mr. O’Leary, four of the 14 leadership candidates do not currently have a seat in the House, being businessman Rick Peterson and three former Conservative MPs, Pierre Lemieux, Chris Alexander, and Andrew Saxton.
The remaining all nine candidates are incumbent 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.), Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis, Que.), Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.), and Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University, Sask.).
According to a poll conducted by Mainstreet Research for iPolitics, Mr. O’Leary was the first choice of 23.5 per cent of Conservative Party members, followed by Mr. Bernier with 16.4 per cent support, Mr. Scheer with 13.1 per cent, and Mr. O’Toole with 9.9 per cent support. The poll of 1,776 Conservative Party members, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.32 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, was conducted between March 28 and March 31. The same poll indicated the following support for other candidates: Ms. Leitch (8.9 per cent), Mr. Chong (7.5 per cent), Ms. Raitt (6.3 per cent), Mr. Lemieux (2.4 per cent), Mr. Blaney (2.4 per cent), Mr. Trost (1.9 per cent), Mr. Saxton (.23 per cent), Mr. Obhrai (.06 per cent), and Mr. Peterson at zero.
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