A missing candidate
In just over two weeks, the Conservative Party of Canada will select a new leader. The person who should be elected, and with the best chance to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is not on the ballot. It isn’t Kevin O’Leary.
The baker’s dozen list of candidates is confusing. There are actually 14 candidates since O’Leary withdrew from the race too late to have his name deleted. It’s a ranked ballot, where members can select up to 10 candidates in order of preference. Points by ridings are more important than votes cast.
Atlantic Canadians face some of the toughest choices. There is no native son or daughter in the race. The closest is Lisa Raitt, who was born in Sydney but moved to Ontario and represents the federal riding of Milton. She has attracted support from a number of key Nova Scotia Tories, especially from Cape Breton. Kellie Leitch recently discovered that her family has connections among Conway homesteads around Souris, P.E.I.
The departure of O’Leary, who decided he couldn’t win a federal election because he couldn’t speak French, has thrown the race wide open.
In a crowded field, it’s often necessary to take radical positions to gain attention, headlines and sound bytes. Still, it’s unsettling to see so many candidates willing to brush aside limits on a prime minister’s power and threaten personal rights by invoking the notwithstanding clause to override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
Maxime Bernier wants to send asylum seekers home without a hearing. Steven Blaney wants to override the charter to ban the niqab at citizenship hearings; Erin O’Toole and Brad Trost want to override recent Supreme Court decisions; while Raitt would use the clause to ensure the Energy East oil pipeline is built to Saint John over any First Nations’ opposition.
Leitch wants immigration rules tightened and newcomers to pass a Canadian values test. Pierre Lemieux is openly pro-life and wants to curb abortion rights.
Many of those positions have a populist appeal but devalue our charter rights.
The leaders – at least in terms of money raised - are Bernier, Leitch, O’Toole and Andrew Scheer. But a ranked ballot could thrust a dark horse into a possible frontrunner. It supports the analysis that this race is wide open.
And the biggest disappointment in this whole leadership race is the absence of Rona Ambrose – the most popular and competent Conservative in the country today.
She said she wouldn’t be a candidate when she accepted the interim role in November 2015. She let her final window close last November when she didn’t resign to become eligible to seek the party leadership.
Ambrose poses tough questions and holds the Liberal government to task without disparaging the nation or her Commons colleagues. She is a skilled debater and could defeat Trudeau.
The fateful decision by Ambrose is one of the great missed opportunities in the history of Canadian politics.