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ALAN HOLMAN: Lots of tire kickers, only one candidate

Jean Charest speaks during a panel discussion at the Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa on Wednesday November 13, 2019.
Reports say Jean Charest is considering a run for the Conservative Party leadership. - Adrian Wyld photo

Premier Dennis King is the personification of a problem the Conservatives have. Many people might think that Mr. King leads one of the five provincial Conservative governments in Canada.

But no, Mr. King earnestly insists he heads up a Progressive Conservative government. That he is a member of the Progressive Conservative party of P.E.I., and he is not, and does not, have a membership in the Conservative Party of Canada.

The federal Conservative Party still pretty much lives with the policies and membership that was the party created by Stephen Harper. The Harper ‘base’ includes the usual anti-tax, often rural, economic conservatives. But that base also includes a number of social conservatives who are ardently pro-life, antiabortion and anti-sex education.

In the last election, Andrew Scheer got the second highest number of votes (6.15 million) of any Tory leader except Brian Mulroney, who got 6.2 million in 1984. Mr. Scheer increased the number of Conservatives in the Commons by 22 seats and held the Liberals to a minority government. But that wasn’t good enough. He was forced to resign. He’ll be replaced at a convention on June 27.

Anyone running to replace Mr. Scheer has to be aware of the SoCons. The SoCons are important to the party because they donate, they organize, and they show up.

But the SoCon also come with a lot baggage. Mr. Scheer’s personal opposition to same-sex marriage became a minor issue in the last election and there was a feeling that his discomfort in dealing with abortion and LGBTQ issues put off a lot of potential voters.

And then, there’s the issue of geography. There are a number of Tories who feel that after two leaders from the West, it’s time for a leader from Central or Eastern Canada.

However, many of those same Tories acknowledge that should she throw her hat in the ring, Rona Ambrose from Alberta would immediately be the frontrunner. Ms. Ambrose held six different ministries in the Harper government, including Health. After Stephen Harper resigned, she was the interim leader for a year and half, and it’s conceded she did an excellent job.

Peter MacKay, a former MP from Nova Scotia who was also in the Harper cabinet, is another potential candidate. He as been practising law in Toronto for the past five years, though it’s expected that he would run as a Nova Scotian.

Mr. MacKay won the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives on May 31, 2003, by promising he would not merge the Tories with the Canadian Alliance. However, on Oct. 15, he announced that he and Stephen Harper had agreed to just such a merger, and the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada was born.

In the middle of the last federal campaign, supporters of Mr. MacKay told the Globe and Mail newspaper that they would launch a leadership campaign for Mr. MacKay if Andrew Scheer lost the election. At the time, Mr. MacKay denied any knowledge of the campaign.

Erin O’Toole, the MP for

Durham in Ontario, is also considered to be a leading contender. He was also in the Harper cabinet. He came third to Maxime Bernier in the 2017 leadership contest won by Andrew Scheer.

Pierre Poilievre is an Ottawa MP with western connections. He was born in the west and attended the University of Calgary. He has earned a reputation as an aggressive questioner in the House of Commons.

Jean Charest, a former Progressive Conservative MP and once Liberal premier of Quebec, is also reported to be contemplating a leadership bid.

As of late this week, the only announced contender for the leadership is another Ontarian, Marilyn Gladu, the MP for Sarnia-Lambton. The 57 yearold chemical engineer is a two term MP and she says she has the money, the organization and is ready to go.

However, there will be more candidates. At one point in 2017, there were 17 candidates. But, the requirement of a $300,000 deposit and signatures from 3,000 people across the country should help limit the number running this time.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: alanholman19@gmail.com.

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