Conservative MPs who have endorsed any of the 14 leadership candidates are working aggressively to deliver their ridings to their preferred candidates in next month’s leadership vote because the riding-by-riding leadership election results will be seen as a measure of MPs’ influence in their ridings, say Conservative MPs.
As well, if an MP’s chosen candidate wins, it puts them in good spot to be chosen as part of their shadow cabinet.
“[Caucus endorsements are] fairly significant only because if the MP is considered to be a centre of influence within his or her EDA (electoral district association), and normally that is the case, then a lot of the Members would take their lead from the MP,” said veteran Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan, Sask.).
If an MP has this level of influence in their riding, “that would translate into votes” for their preferred candidate, Mr. Lukiwski said.
Another Conservative MP, who did not want to be identified, echoed Mr. Lukiwski’s views.
Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann told The Hill Times that, following the leadership campaign rules spelled out in the party’s constitution, the party will publicly release the riding-by-riding results after each ballot count. The results will show which MPs who backed specific candidates were able to deliver their ridings’ support to the leadership candidates they endorsed.
“At each count round, both the weighted results and the results by electoral district shall be made public,” the party constitution states.
All 338 ridings across the country are weighted equally and have 100 points each, making the total 33,800 points. The leadership contest winner will need at least 16,901 points, or just more than 50 per cent of the points available.
The party is using the preferential-ballot system, in which party members will vote for up to 10 leadership candidates numerically, from their most to least preferred. The person with the least number of first-choice votes will be dropped after the first ballot. The lower-ranked choices on the eliminated candidates’ ballots will distributed among the other candidates and counted again. The process will be repeated until someone receives more than 50 per cent support.
Considering the high number of leadership candidates and close contest, it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to win 50 per cent plus support on the first ballot.
Mr. Lukiwski, who was first elected in the 2004 federal election and has been re-elected ever since, said he’s been campaigning for Conservative leadership candidate and fellow MP Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) in his own riding and also in the other Regina-area ridings. He said he decided to endorse Mr. Scheer, not because the former House Speaker is from the same province, but because he thinks he is the best candidate to lead the party and potentially the country as prime minister in 2019.
Mr. Lukiwski said he’s campaigning for Mr. Scheer through social media, working the phones, and talking to Conservative Party members in person almost every day when he’s in the riding. He said he spends about two to three hours a day campaigning for his caucus colleague when Parliament is not in session.
Mr. Lukiwski said he’s confident an overwhelming majority of members in his riding would vote for Mr. Scheer.
“I’ve been talking to everyone in my riding about why I’m supporting Andrew,” said Mr. Lukiwski. “I’m doing very aggressive outreach with all party members on my own time to try to convince them that Andrew is the right choice.”
Mr. Lukiwski, 65, conceded that when MPs support a candidate in any party’s leadership contest, an expectation of a senior shadow cabinet position is always a factor in play. But, he said, he’s not sure if he’ll run in the 2019 election and he has no expectation for such a role.
He said the new leader should ensure that the next shadow cabinet includes MPs who are best qualified, rather than who supported the eventual leader.
Mr. Lukiwski said he has made a suggestion to top campaign officials of all leadership candidates that whoever wins the leadership—to be decided May 27 in Toronto—should include some retiring MPs in the transition team for advice on the next shadow cabinet. He said he received a positive response.
In the 138-member national Conservative caucus, there are 99 MPs and 39 Senators. Of the 99 MPs, 65 have already endorsed one of the 14 leadership candidates. Nine incumbent Conservative MPs are running for the party leadership and four MPs hold House leadership positions and are staying neutral. These four MPs include interim leader Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.), Deputy Leader Denis Lebel (Lac-Saint-Jean, Que.), Chief Opposition Whip Gordon Brown (Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands, Ont.), and House Leader Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.). Conservative MP Diane Finley (Haldimand-Norfolk, Ont.) is also not publicly endorsing anyone, being a member of the Conservative Leadership Election Organization Committee.
Beyond this, there are 20 Conservative MPs who have not yet given an endorsement to any candidate.
Of the 39 Senators, 33 Senators have endorsed their favourite leadership candidates.
Mr. Scheer is leading the pack in receiving the caucus endorsements. He has the support of 24 MPs and eight Senators, followed by Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) who has the support of 26 MPs and two Senators.
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) has the support of six MPs and six Senators; Conservative MP Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.) has the support of three MPs and two Senators; Conservative MP Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.) has the support of three MPs; Conservative MP Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) has the support of two MPs and one Senator; businessman Kevin O’Leary has the support of two MPs and two Senators, and Conservative MP Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis, Que.) has the support of two Senators.
Former Conservative MP Andrew Saxton, businessman Rick Peterson, former Conservative MP Pierre Lemieux, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.), Conservative MP Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University, Sask.) and former Conservative MP Chris Alexander have no endorsements from any of the incumbent Conservative MPs or current Senators.
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 per cent, 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.
Newfoundland and Labrador Conservative Sen. Fabian Manning, who has not endorsed any candidate, said several candidates have approached him to seek his support, but he has not made up his mind. A former MP, Sen. Manning said he will likely make up his mind about who to endorse in the next few weeks. He said that although Senate seats are not elected positions, Senators hold a significant sway in their regions. Sen. Manning explained that Senators have name recognition in their regions and know influential political insiders in the area, which makes them important players in their provinces.
“We all have contacts within our provinces, within our areas,” Sen. Manning said. “The way the voting is going to take place, a riding in Newfoundland and Labrador is just as important as a riding in Ontario. A leadership candidate having somebody on the ground in different areas of the country, in different areas of provinces, I believe will be beneficial.”
In the four Atlantic provinces, which have 32 federal seats in the House of Commons, Conservatives did not elect a single MP in the last election. The only federal representation that Conservatives have in Ottawa from the Atlantic provinces is in the Senate. Of the 27 total Atlantic Senate seats, the Conservatives hold 12.
Conservative MP David Tilson (Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.) who is supporting Mr. Chong, told The Hill Times that caucus support is important but “does not make a big difference” in a candidate’s success. He conceded that some Conservative MPs are working aggressively in their ridings to ensure that their endorsed candidate wins. But he said he’s not concerned if a candidate besides Mr. Chong wins the leadership race, and said it will not reflect poorly on him as an MP.
“People in my riding are free thinkers,” Mr. Tilson said. “They don’t always agree with what I say.”
Rookie Conservative MP Alex Nuttall (Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, Ont.), who is the membership chair of Mr. Bernier’s campaign, said that campaign is not focusing on caucus endorsements. Instead, he said the leadership contest will be decided by thousands of members across the county, and the Bernier campaign is trying to win the support of grassroots members of the party.
Mr. Nuttall cited the example of the 2015 Ontario provincial Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, in which former MPP Christine Elliott had significantly more caucus support than Patrick Brown, but Mr. Brown, a former Conservative MP, won the leadership contest.
Rookie Conservative MP Bob Saroya (Markham-Unionville, Ont.), a supporter of Mr. Scheer, said he’s confident that most of the MPs supporting the Saskatchewan MP would “at least be able to deliver their ridings, if not more.” In his case, he said, an overwhelming majority of the 300 plus riding association members are social conservatives and their support is divided between Mr. Scheer and Mr. Trost. So, Mr. Saroya said, Mr. Scheer will either be the first or second choice of most party members in his riding.
“I would say 95-98 per cent of the votes should go to these two candidates,” said Mr. Saroya.
He said he’s making calls on the Scheer campaign’s behalf to Conservative party members not only in the GTA area, but also across the country.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to reflect the caucus endorsements for Conservative MP Andrew Scheer and Conservative MP Erin O’Toole. Mr. Scheer has the support of 24 MPs and eight Senators, and Mr. O’Toole has the support of 26 MPs and two Senators. The original story incorrectly reported on the number of Senators endorsing Mr. O’Toole which has since been corrected. The Hill Times apologizes for the error.
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