Another One Bites the Dust

3 minute read
Since the fall election, Erin O’Toole faced several challenges to his leadership but was able to navigate his way to safety. After what started as another Groundhog Day of challenges to his leadership, O’Toole’s luck ran out and he took his final bow as leader. Last Wednesday morning, the Conservative caucus voted 73-45 to send O’Toole packing and start the process of finding a new leader. 

Conservatives now find themselves in a situation that is not uncommon for the new era of the party and that’s planning a leadership race. Since losing in 2015, the Conservatives have had a leadership race after every election. In other words, three leaders in six years. Not a particularly appealing statistic for anyone considering the job. So who will step up to lead the party and what comes next? 

Following O’Toole’s exit, the Conservative caucus was quick to elect Candice Bergen as the interim leader. Bergen is no stranger to leadership as she was O’Toole’s deputy leader, house leader to Andrew Scheer, and a cabinet minister in the Harper government. Her first job will be to unite the party and keep the Tory ship afloat in the coming months. 

Uniting the party will be no easy task as the Conservative caucus is still divided on the appropriate path forward. One challenge O’Toole faced during his time as leader was trying to balance the diverse views of caucus and the views of Canadians. A party that was once a happy big blue tent in government is now a beehive of anger between fiscal, social, and progressive conservatives. 

Each wing of the party believes they are right and refuses to put water in their wine in order to work together. This lack of unity will be a question that all leadership candidates will have to grapple with as they travel the country looking for votes. Before candidates begin to hit the Zoom circuit or backyard BBQs tour, however, the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) must be formed. 

LEOC oversees all Conservative Party leadership races and includes representation from National Council, the Caucus, and the Conservative Fund. They set the rules, the date, and the process to elect a new leader. LEOC also decides on the minimum membership period for voters to be eligible, establishes the method of voting, and creates a dispute resolution process. 

During the 2020 leadership race, LEOC was made up of 18 members and was established 18 days after the leader resigned. The leadership race was set at six-months, but was extended an extra two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This race will likely be shorter given the minority parliament. 

Once a date has been set and membership sales have ended, campaigns will shift their focus on encouraging their supporters to vote. The Tories use a ranked ballot and weighted point system to determine a winner. Each riding is allotted 100 points and candidates receive a percentage of the points based on the number of votes they get in that riding. 

At the last policy convention, members voted to change the rules, so ridings with less than 100 voting members are not allocated 100 points. Instead, these ridings are given points based on the number of voting members. For example, if a riding only has 50 members, then the maximum number of points a candidate can receive is 50. This change levels the playing field between riding associations that have large memberships in Western Canada and smaller ones in Quebec and parts of Atlantic Canada.

Despite a new point system, the Tories will still have to solve their ever-growing unity problem. It’s a problem that has cost them two leaders and could put them in opposition for many years to come. 

Whoever the new leader may be, they will have one big challenge ahead of them.

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