Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Now that the second official debate of the race is over, candidates for Canada’s Conservative Party leadership will focus on selling membership cards ahead of the rapidly approaching deadline.
The election organizing committee said it was already breaking records for the number of new members registered by candidates ahead of the June 3 deadline for those new members to vote on September 10.
Last week, officials expected a “voting base” of more than 400,000 members before the deadline. By comparison, in the last race for leadership in 2020, the party had nearly 270,000 registered and voting members.
The six candidates vying to replace Erin O’Toole met on stage Wednesday for a debate in French in Laval, a province where the Conservative Party has never won more than a dozen seats.
A raucous crowd of several hundred activists cheered and booed all evening as the candidates took turns attacking each other’s records and positions, including Quebec’s controversial laws.
Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, a frontrunner in the race that draws large crowds to rallies across Canada, has repeatedly stressed his opposition to Quebec’s secularism law, which bans certain officials in positions of authority, including women teachers, from wearing religious symbols carry work.
Former Quebec Prime Minister Jean Charest and Ontario Mayor Patrick Brown, who were seen as his main competitors, both accused Mr Poilievre of not making his position on the law clear when he addressed residents of Quebec turned – which he denied.
Ontario MPs Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis and Independent Ontario MP Roman Baber are also contenders for the chair. Her ignorance of the French language didn’t really let her shine in Laval on Wednesday night.
Gain new faces
Conservative activists are looking for leadership candidates who can bring many new faces to the party, including in Quebec, where membership numbers remain low.
Under new rules passed last year, a constituency must have at least 100 members for candidates to get full marks in the preferred voting system used to elect the new Conservative leader.
A candidate is elected when he receives more than 50% of the votes. If there are none after the first ballot, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the ballot and their votes are reallocated to the candidates designated by the members as “second choice”.
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s debate, Messrs Charest and Brown repeatedly attacked Pierre Poilievre without attacking each other. Former Quebec PM says Brampton Mayor shouldn’t be underestimated in this race. Mr. Brown has been known in conservative circles as an excellent organizer since his time as chairman of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
He spent most of that race crisscrossing the country, meeting diverse immigrant communities and ethnocultural groups and encouraging them to become party members to transform the Canadian conservative movement. In particular, he has focused his efforts on the Tamil, Chinese, Sikh, Nepalese, Filipino and Muslim communities.
Mr. Brown promises them a better seat at the political table and promises to end the lottery system for family reunification on immigration. He has also spent recent weeks linking Poilievre’s name to two controversial right-wing figures – former US President Donald Trump and French National Assembly leader Marine Le Pen.
In Wednesday’s debate, Mr Brown repeated that rhetoric, accusing Mr Poilievre of trying to woo Canadians to sympathize with Pat King, one of the leaders of the “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa, who also married the “great substitute” conspiracy theory. Mr Poilievre condemned Pat King’s comments.
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