File photo.

Conservative leadership field still small, but stay tuned

The race for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada is on, and so far, it’s… perplexing.

Six candidates have signalled their intentions so far (at time of writing this — stay tuned because it’s changing daily) that being Peter MacKay, Erin OToole, Pierre Poilievre, Derek Sloan, Richard Decarie and Marilyn Gladu.

Most are very familiar with Peter MacKay, well known as the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, which ceased to exist after Alliance supporters joined up to form the new Conservative Party. MacKay had many cabinet positions in the Harper governments, and is, by far, the best known of the five. He stepped out of politics briefly but he’s back.

Erin O’Toole is well known in political circles, having served as an MP since 2012.

Pierre Poilievre is from the Andrew Scheer/Stephen Harper camp, but apparently held in high regard within the party. And he is an bilingual MP from Ontario, who was born and raised in Alberta. That ticks a lot of boxes.

Marilyn Gladu is an Ontario MP, and not well known outside that province.

Derek Sloan can beat that. He’s only sat in the house for a few days, having just won in the past election in Ontario. But he says people with cabinet experience are “kind of boring”. He says he has big, bold ideas but he’s not sharing them yet. He is also a social conservative and thinks abortion should be debated.

Richard Decarie is also an unknown. He was deputy chief of staff to Harper. But he’s about to be famous because he really stuck his foot in it and announced that being gay was a choice this week. He also started in on the old trope of ‘traditional values’. He was immediately castigated by others running for the leadership.

But the big question thus far is, why so few candidates?

In the 2017 Conservative leadership contest, there were 17 candidates at the beginning, with 13 of them staying on until first ballots were cast. Now, having a big field doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality candidate wins in the end. It certainly didn’t when the Republicans in the U.S. had a huge slate in 2016. The world still ended up with the gift of Trump.

The current Democratic primary in the States started with big numbers as well, and all that has happened is that most of the diversity is now gone as the field thins.

But only six candidates out there so far is interesting. Especially since there is a very strong possibility that the winner will be the next Prime Minister of Canada. You’d think there’d be more people interested.

It could be that most think it’s a slam dunk for MacKay and there’s no need to enter at all. And he could very easily win it. He is seen as pragmatic, centrist, sort of the anti-Scheer. Polling done this week says that if the field remains this small, MacKay has the best chance. MacKay is also very prepared, having begun to organize well before Scheer resigned, betting that there would be a leadership contest.

MacKay is the author of that now famous quote about Scheer blowing the last election being like a hockey player missing the empty net on a breakaway.

The lack of candidates could also be that the number of signatures required to be declared as a candidate (3000) is pretty onerous, especially if you haven’t been a party member for a long while. That’s a lot of signatures

It could be that there are candidates playing a little cat and mouse, waiting to hear who will declare and who won’t. With both Rona Ambrose and Jean Charest saying they won’t run, there may be a few more candidates considering their options now. They still have time. February 27 is the cut off date.

But it does appear from the field so far, that Conservatives are going to have to choose if they want to go the route of the ‘social conservatives’ or the ‘progressive conservative’. That choice is going to have a big impact on Canada for years to come.

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