Elder statesman of Conservative MPs entering party leadership race
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai stands in the House of Commons, on Friday May 30, 2014. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, July 15, 2016 1:20PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 15, 2016 4:21PM EDT
OTTAWA -- As candidates from Ontario and Quebec have lined up to run for leadership of the federal Conservatives, many have wondered whether anyone from the party's Western heartland was going to join them.
Well, now one is planning to -- longtime Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai.
Obhrai, 66, will be the fifth entrant in the contest that will conclude with a vote by party members next May.
He is the longest continuously serving member of the Conservative team in the House of Commons.
During the Tories' years in government, he held a number of junior cabinet positions in foreign affairs and, while on the opposition benches, he has also served as parliamentary critic on those files.
"Upon reflection, considering my strong background in communities, Parliament, international forum, being a grassroots advocate, I plan to put forward my name to run for the leadership of our party," Obhrai said in an email to his fellow MPs.
"At this time I am in touch with communities and supporters across the country to build a credible team to mount this campaign."
Obhrai recently led the charge to have the party's membership fees dropped, saying a planned hike would put the party at risk of becoming an "elitist, white-only club."
He got a taste of leadership last fall when he presided over the party's first post-election caucus meeting.
Obhrai assumed the role thanks to changes in parliamentary law requiring MPs to vote in that first meeting on how they govern themselves. The law said the vote was to be run by the MP with the longest period of unbroken service, which was Obhrai. He was first elected in 1997 as a Reform MP.
The changes were spearheaded by another Tory also running for leader, Michael Chong.
Obhrai is close to former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who has been thinking about launching his own leadership bid. Earlier this week MacKay told The Canadian Press he had not yet made up his mind.
But the decisions this week by Obhrai and Ontario Tory MP Tony Clement to join the race are fuelling speculation MacKay isn't going to make a bid.
Other candidates so far include Ontario MP Kellie Leitch and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier.
"All of us bring our strengths and perspectives into this race," Obhrai said.
"I look forward to the membership making their choice."