Conservative hopeful Raitt turns campaign against O'Leary, Leitch
Published Wednesday, January 4, 2017 12:43PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 4, 2017 5:37PM EST
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt has launched a campaign against Kellie Leitch and Kevin O'Leary, two of her competitors in the party's leadership race, one day after Leitch drew the attention of Fox's business network.
Leitch appeared on Fox Business Tuesday, billed as the Canadian parliamentarian who wants the same immigration screening as Donald Trump. The appearance came the day before Raitt announced her website focused on drawing attention to the weaknesses of the highest-profile Conservative leadership candidate and the highest-profile potential candidate (O'Leary is publicly considering joining the race and has launched an exploratory committee).
"If we want to bring Conservative ideas back to government in 2019, we need a leader who can beat Justin Trudeau," Raitt said at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, referring to the next election year.
"Instead of talking about broken Liberal promises and foolish Liberal failures in 2019, we would be wasting time and energy on baiting and sensational antics with either O'Leary or with Leitch."
But, while Raitt framed the site as one about both Leitch and O'Leary, the URL -- StopKevinOLeary.com -- makes it apparent the focus is more on one than the other.
"Equally, they are both trying to tap into negative populism," Raitt said.
"If principled and pragmatic Conservatives don't join together, we will see our party hijacked by the loudest voice in the room, who are really just aiming to boost their own profile."
Raitt listed several of O’Leary’s policy positions that she said would hurt the Conservative Party during a general election.
Raitt is the third leadership candidate to publicly question the qualifications of O'Leary, the celebrity investor and chair of O'Leary Financial Group. Last month, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier said O'Leary should reconsider his possible leadership bid because he doesn't speak French. On Tuesday, Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer challenged O'Leary to join the leadership race before the party's French-language debate later this month.
O'Leary's spokeswoman said they prefer to focus on Trudeau “and his mismanagement of Canada's economy.”
“Kevin is the kind of leader who has what it takes to defeat Justin Trudeau,” Amy Mills said in an email. “[It’s] natural that some other candidates may take a run at him. That's politics. It's just not the politics we want to play.”
The site launch quickly drew reaction from Bernier.
"Unlike other leadership contestants, I welcome more competition, and I am not scared of @kevinolearytv," he tweeted.
Leitch responded on Facebook in a post defending her plan to hold face-to-face interviews with any immigrant to Canada.
"Lisa Raitt drew a line in the sand today and showed that she stands with the Liberals and media elites," Leitch wrote.
Raitt's announcement seemed to draw additional attention to O'Leary and Leitch, but Liberal political strategist Scott Reid said it was a necessary move.
First, he said, it gets in the news in the midst of a 13-contestant race where Raitt, Scheer and Ontario MP Erin O'Toole, who are among the more moderate candidates, haven't gotten a lot of attention. And if they're thinking of comparisons to Trump, Reid said, "the lesson of Trump is [that] standing around, waiting for him to blow himself up, assuming he won't be taken seriously, and excusing the threat as meaningless is a recipe to end up in the graveyard."
Chris Alexander, a former Ontario MP and another Conservative leadership contestant, said O’Leary has been effective at pointing out how poorly the Canadian economy is performing.
“I think he’d make a very strong member of an economic team -- even a finance minister. That’s where I’d like to see him in a Chris Alexander government,” Alexander said.
O'Leary's name recognition may appeal to members looking for the best candidate to defeat Trudeau, Reid said, so Conservative Party members need a reason to vote against him. Raitt offered several on Wednesday, reminding Conservatives that O’Leary has spoken in favour of a carbon tax, attacked unions -- including threatening to make them illegal -- and said when comparing war to peacekeeping that there's nothing proud about being a warrior.
Members who oppose O’Leary and Leitch also need a candidate to rally around, so Raitt may be trying to position herself as that candidate, he said.
Turning her attention to O'Leary and Leitch, Reid said, is "just eminently sensible."
"The alternative is to do what every single one of those pylons in the GOP [Republican] race did last year, which is stand around and wait for someone else to stop the threat. No one ultimately ended up stopping Donald Trump, and it can't be taken for granted that Kevin O'Leary will just self-destruct," he said.
Raitt also sketched out some of her platform the day before in a Facebook post, in which she said she believes in principles like personal liberty, individual accountability and tradition. She pledged to balance the federal budget and cut taxes, invest in health care and stand up for Israel.
The deadline to enter the Conservative leadership race is Feb. 24. The new leader will be chosen on May 27, 2017.