Tony Clement launches Conservative leadership campaign
OTTAWA --Tony Clement has officially launched his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
Clement is a long-time politician, having been a member of Ontario legislature from 1995 to 2003 before winning his seat in the House, and brings some established Conservative organizers to his team.
Long-time Conservative organizer John Capobianco is advising on the campaign, with Sandra Buckler, former director of communications to Stephen Harper, running media relations. Mike Crase, a former executive assistant to former Conservative MP Stella Ambler, is campaign manager. Crase is now the chief operating officer of ElectRight, a company that provides campaign services like voter identification and get-out-the-vote, including live and automated calling, also known as robocalls.
Clement is also meeting with Kevin O’Leary, the chair of O'Leary Financial Group and a Bell Media on-air contributor, in Muskoka this weekend, according to a report in the Globe and Mail.
Clement is one of four sitting MPs to announce their plans to run for the Conservative leadership. Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Kellie Leitch have also said they want to lead the party. Peter MacKay, who served in the Harper cabinet as defence minister and foreign affairs minister, is also rumoured to be considering a run.
In an interview with CTV News, adviser Bill King says he's worked directly and indirectly with Clement for 30 years. He praised Clement for being capable and decent, "the type of person we want in public life."
"He has tremendous experience. Senior cabinet experience in multiple portfolios provincially and federally," said King, who was Clement's chief of staff when he was the minister of health and minister of industry.
"I certainly support his planks on smaller government, proving the value and productivity in government, getting more bang for our proverbial tax dollar."
Later this week, Clement will meet with O'Leary, who has a cottage in Clement's Parry Sound-Muskoka riding.
"Obviously it's the summer, so, nothing more Canadian than talking about politics on the dock," O’Leary said in an interview with CTV News, adding he met with former Ontario premier Mike Harris last week.
O'Leary says he's known Clement for years, and that his wife went to university with Clement.
"We know each other, so I invited him. I said, 'Look, let's meet, let's talk, let's see where we can help each other, and should I choose a path of support for somebody, no reason we can't talk about it.' And that's really what I'm doing with pretty well all the candidates."
Tim Powers, a long-time Conservative insider, said the members he talks to are still feeling out who they want to support. One big question is whether MacKay, considered the most popular of the contenders, will run.
"There's such a long road to go now. A lot of it's going to come down to what are Conservative voters thinking about," Powers said. "Are they actually thinking about trying to win in 2019 or are they thinking about a longer play given the popularity of the current prime minister?"
"It's a feeling-out process. I think the candidates who have come in now know they have the highest mountains to climb and the most work to do."
Clement has faced criticism in the past. He was the minister who cancelled the mandatory long-form census, a decision that was widely criticized and which the Liberals reversed almost as soon as they took office. He also directed $100,000 in infrastructure funds intended to support the G8 gathering in his Muskoka riding to a gazebo, one of a number of projects the Conservatives defended at the time as a thank you to residents for putting up with the security demands of hosting a G8 summit. The auditor general raised questions about the $50 million G8 legacy fund, which was taken from an $83 million pot the Conservatives presented as intended to ease border congestion.
King says despite those stumbles, it would be a mistake to underestimate Clement.
"He's had lots of ups and downs in his career and my sense is he always comes back."