Conservative party leadership race overview

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Pierre Poilievre’s core constituency. Ottawagraphics via Pixabay

Out with the old, in with the new; still just as troubled

Through an 11-6 vote by the Leadership Election Organization Committee (LEOC) on July 5, Patrick Brown was disqualified from the Conservative Party’s current leadership race for what the party called “serious allegations of wrongdoings.” In a statement issued by Ian Brodie, LEOC Chair, it was revealed that Brown’s campaign was suspected of violating the Canada Elections Act area of financial provisions. Brodie concludes his statement by saying that the LEOC “will not be speaking further on the subject.” 

They will, however, be working with party members as well as Elections Canada, the group responsible to enforce the Canada Elections Act. John Reynolds, co-chair of Brown’s campaign, has been quite vocal in condemning the decision made, saying they will be appealing first to the party, and then to the court if necessary. 

He is not alone in condemning the expulsion. The LEOC members who voted to allow Brown’s candidacy to continue claimed to have done so in a Globe and Mail article by Ian Bailey and Robert Fife because evidence of said wrongdoings had yet to be brought forward. The appeal from Brown’s campaign is not expected to conclude before this current leadership election passes, and Brown has opted to bid for re-election as mayor of Brampton, Ontario for the time being. 

He was first elected as mayor in 2018, and seems to be as polarizing a figure locally as Pierre Poilievre, the candidate widely assumed to be leading the Conservative leadership race, is nationally. While Brown has pleased those in his municipality with decisions like freezing property taxes for his four years in the position, five city councillors made a statement outlining irregularities in the city’s finances, and expressing their displeasure with Brown’s pattern of only getting Brampton on the map for scandal after scandal. They see a pattern in their mayor’s conduct, describing him as a politician who will do anything to win.

While Brown has denied any knowledge of financial provision violations, Debbie Jodoin – a regional organizer for Brown’s campaign from May to June – said that Brown personally connected her to a third party who would cover her expenses. Jodoin became concerned with the arrangement and sought legal counsel, who she then brought to her conversation with the party and their LEOC. Brown’s campaign has since offered a reimbursement of $10,000 to the company Jodoin had received payment from, claiming the connection was intended as a job referral with the assumption campaign work would be done outside company time. This occurred after Brown and campaign took to social media the week of the disqualification, claiming that the sudden ousting was a strategic move by the LEOC to give Poilievre – his main rival in the leadership race – a guaranteed win as party leader. 

The ballots are mailed, the show must go on.

Several sources have outlined that the ballots for this leadership election were printed, addressed, and mailed before this LEOC vote – that Brown’s name will not be struck from them. Instead, members of the party registered to vote will fill out their ballots as usual, and party officials counting votes will disregard any who select Brown, moving up their subsequent choice. The ballots must be received by the party no later than September 6, with the winner scheduled to be announced on September 10.

The five remaining eligible candidates include Scott Aitchison, Leslyn Lewis, Roman Baber, Pierre Poilievre, and Jean Charest. In an interview with CTV News, political analyst Lori Turnbull mentioned that many who intended to vote for Brown may simply refrain from voting altogether, despite similarities between Brown and eligible candidates Aitchison and Charest. 

Brown’s campaign wrote an email to Global News on July 12 outlining Brown’s endorsement of Charest specifically, but more generally that he would support any candidate other than Poilievre. “The note added that Brown also has high regard for candidates Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitcheson,” said Heidi Lee in her coverage of the endorsement, “but ‘Charest has the best chance to stop Pierre Poilievre extremism.’”

Conservative party memberships (may have) more than doubled.

When Erin O’Toole was elected as Conservative party leader in the previous leadership race of 2020, registered membership for the party was recorded to be roughly 270,000. Just before Brown’s disqualification, the Conservative party announced the current number of eligible voters registered: roughly 675,000. While this seems a drastic increase in interest to observe over just two years, this number may turn out to be a drastic overestimation, and the campaigns of multiple candidates have raised concerns.

Mike Coates, the chairman of Charest’s campaign, wrote a letter to the party’s LEOC criticizing processing delays for party members registering to vote. Complaints were made to members of both Charest’s and Lewis’s campaigns by members uncertain of their voting eligibility who had purchased a duplicate membership in an attempt to ensure their standing. In an article for The Canadian Press, Stephanie Taylor cited Lewis’s claim that “tens of thousands” of duplicates may have occurred through this last count, and processing delays are only one facet of the problem. 

Both Lewis and Reynolds have voiced concerns over an email sent by Poilievre’s campaign team which warned individuals that their membership status was incomplete shortly before June 3, the deadline for party supporters to sign up as voting members. This email also led to duplicate membership purchases according to Lewis and Reynolds, leading the latter to request in late June that the emails be investigated by the LEOC. It has not yet been confirmed whether the emails were sent solely to unregistered individuals; Poilievre’s team claimed they only sent the warning emails to those not registered in the records they had available. Official numbers have yet to be released by the party, and there has been no elaboration on the possible investigation into these emails. 

Each membership costs the member $15 for a year, and the Conservative party is at the receiving end of a comfortable $10 million this year whether or not every payment comes with an eligible voter attached. For those who, for one reason or another, purchased more than one membership, their payment will be carried over into the following year; in other words, someone who registered twice will be an eligible voting member until 2024. The party’s current priority is validating the purchased memberships, especially the near-312,000 memberships that Poilievre’s campaign claims to have sold through their website alone. Though official membership numbers per candidate have yet to be announced, three separate sources on background from leadership campaigns shared with Global News that a majority of Poilievre’s sign-ups are new to the federal Conservative party, drawn in for the first time by this man and his message. 

The politician, the partisan, the pipsqueak: Poilievre.

With Brown out of the running, Poilievre appears to be the candidate to watch in this leadership race. His political upbringing began with selling Reform party memberships for Alberta’s Jason Kenny in 1995. He first became an MP at age 25 in Ottawa’s Carleton riding in 2004, was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Board President, then as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Stephen Harper at the time) before being appointed Minister of Employment and Social Development. He has consistently held a seat in the House of Commons since 2015 and has been the Shadow Minister for Jobs and Industry since February 10, 2021.

Ottawa Bureau Chief for Maclean’s, Shannon Proudfoot, compiled and wrote a profile on Poilievre, published parts of their interview transcript, and appeared on The Big Story podcast to discuss who exactly he is behind the “partisan attack dog” we see in the House of Commons. In his university years, Poilievre penned a 2,500 word essay titled Building Canada through Freedom for an “As Prime Minister” essay contest; Proudfoot states the “argument is nearly identical to the pitch Poilievre would make more than 20 years later when he announced he was running for real-life prime minister.”

An excerpt from Poilevre’s essay reads “Politics should not be a lifelong career, and elected officials should not be allowed to fix themselves in the halls of power of a nation.” The statement appears ironic, or perhaps hypocritical, seeing as he’s spent nearly two decades in politics and is vying for even more time. He’s moved up in the party’s ranks quite quickly, which Proudfoot outlined during the podcast. 

”He kind of vaulted himself out of being a backbencher almost immediately because of his willingness to be a partisan attack dog. I mean, you think when someone in their mid-20s gets elected, normally they’re going to be riding the back benches for like 10 years. There’s no reason anyone would know their names, that they would have any sort of profile, and he very much did not do that. […] Any attack on the Conservatives sort of raised his hackles and got him sailing in with his fists balled up. The choice to be a partisan attack dog was probably just that.”

Poilievre did not take kindly to labels given, however, and attempted to reframe rather than take accountability for his reputation at present. Proudfoot said he focused on his ”10-minute monologues, sort of graduate-level seminars on, like, the history of money, and so his contention is that that’s what people really love him for. Now, I find that really interesting; there’s two ways to take that. One is he’s BSing me, and he knows darn well that he’s an attack dog, and sure he’s capable of these other things – he’s really smart, and he’s capable of these long riffs on really complicated ideas. So, one possibility is that he knows that that is not really how he’s made a name for himself politically, and he’s sort of trying to argue with a reporter who’s advancing a thesis that’s not very flattering.” 

“The other possibility I actually find more interesting on a human level,” continued Proudfoot, “which is that maybe he doesn’t really think he’s that guy. Maybe he’s really kind of puzzled and annoyed on some level that the rest of us keep seeing him as this angry pipsqueak when he sees himself as kind of being more professorial, as having more to offer […] Again, there is a heavy possibility that there is some political gamesmanship going on in that back and forth, but he just sort of wouldn’t entertain the idea that he is this kind of partisan ankle biter.”

While in her profile, her transcription, and her statements during the podcast Proudfoot showed no hesitation in describing Poilievre as very smart and incredibly strategic, overall she expressed disappointment in the version of himself he’s chosen to portray to the public – those he’s hoping vote him in. She ends her profile by stating that ”the Poilievre who is available to us is the one who snarls ceaselessly about Justinflation, lobs bombs just to bask in the glow of the blast and throws in his lot with protesters terrorizing ordinary citizens because – well, frankly, it’s hard to fathom why. Poilievre is very, very bright, a clever strategic thinker, and at some point he decided to bury one of those versions of himself and make the other his ride-or-die, because that seemed like a more certain path to political success. Maybe he was right. And that is all of our loss.”

The far-right: flirtation or family reunion? 

When asked on his vision for Canada as a nation, on what Pierre Poilievre as Prime Minister would do, he describes his ideal as making Canada into “the freest country on Earth.” This follows his passionate and continuous support of the Freedom Convoy, a group of far-right protestors in Canada who occupied Parliament Hill in Ottawa earlier this year and have returned many times since. During one such march on June 30, Poilievre not only joined the march but led it, alongside anti-vaccine protestor James Topp and Paul Alexander, a former health official from Trump’s administration – both of whom have well documented ties to far-right individuals and ideation. 

In early February this year when the convoy was still settling in Poilievre was not shy in defending their actions, saying of the group: “You’re bound to have a number who have, or say, unacceptable things, and they should be individually responsible for the things they say and do, but that doesn’t mean we disparage the thousands of hard working, law-abiding, and peaceful truckers.” Footage of Poilievre in an interview for CBC has surfaced from February 13, 2020, where he voices significantly different thoughts on the Wet’suwet’en blockades.

He quite passionately starts the clip by stating: “Right now these blockaders are taking away the freedom of other people to move their goods and themselves where they want to go, and that is wrong, and the government has laws and tools in place to combat it.” He later continues: “Here at home all hell is breaking loose. Our economy is about to be turned on its head, our entire transportation system is being blockaded, we have CEOs of some of the largest employers in the country who are stepping forward to say that this is a crisis, and what we hear from the government is that they’re observing the situation.” 

While these situations are not identical, they do reveal even more intriguing irony, or perhaps hypocrisy (or, racism and egocentrism). When Indigenous peoples are being forcibly removed from their land by RCMP, being stolen from, uprooted, and disregarded, he sees their protest as an inconvenience at best. When people get upset they can’t go to a restaurant because they are more likely to be carrying a virus that could kill or permanently disable the other people there, that’s what he sees as worth marching for.

In an article for the Toronto Sun, Bob Hepburn characterized Poilievre as someone who “either somehow truly believes in the crazy ideas and causes that he spouts, or he’s a dishonest non-believer who just shamelessly promotes such nonsense in order to gain support from angry, disaffected Canadians in his bid to become party leader. What’s more disturbing is that I don’t know which of these two appalling options is more dangerous – for what they say about Poilievre as a potential Prime Minister, or what they suggest about where Canada is headed as a nation. Clearly, right-wing extremism and populism is gaining acceptance in Canada – and Poilievre is enthusiastically milking this gathering storm.”

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