Weighing the odds in Conservative leadership race
From left to right: Maxime Bernier, Lisa Raitt, Peter MacKay, Tony Clement (Photos: Canadian Press)
Published Wednesday, July 27, 2016 11:15AM EDT
The decision is exactly 300 days away, hardly an eternity when victory requires staffing, fundraising and selling memberships to claim the second most important political leadership in Canada.
On May 27 next year, the Conservative party replaces Stephen Harper as leader.
So far, five MPs have entered with another five potential contenders on the fence.
Here’s my first handicapping of the marathon to become prime minister-in-waiting.
Strengths: He’s still just 50-50 to enter the race as the progressive-side founding-father of the merged Conservatives. He’s held three senior cabinet gigs and performed adequately with only minor but memorable scandals (helicopter hoist anyone?). With the picture perfect family and an athletic aura, he’s positioned to challenge Justin Trudeau as Parliament Hill’s most sought-after selfie.
Weaknesses: He doesn’t have a seat and winning one in his Liberal-swept Atlantic regional stronghold will be mission impossible in the medium-term. His French is passable, but needs work. And he was so fiercely loyal to Stephen Harper’s harder-right positions, it will be awkward to distance himself from the former prime minister’s legislation legacies.
Odds of winning: 3-1
Strengths: If there’s a sleeper candidate with potential to vault into a frontrunner position, it’s this force of personality. A moderate Conservative with business roots and multiple cabinet portfolios on her resume, all done while raising a young family as a single mother, Raitt would seem well positioned to win if MacKay gives the race a pass. She has been a strong finance critic, which could be an asset if the deficit bloats into a big Liberal liability.
Weaknesses: She’s got to improve her French and there’s little sign of a ground game so far. Family considerations are giving her second thoughts, but she’s planning to test the fundraising waters in the coming weeks. If the water’s warm, she’ll jump in.
Odds of winning: 5-1
Strengths: He is the sole Quebec voice in the race so far, which could give him a monopoly on francophone support given most rivals lack French language skills. He’s taking big, bold policy positions on enhanced privatization, shrinking government and ending supply management. And his youthful super-fit image has publicity appeal in the Trudeau era.
Weaknesses: His positions aren’t always pleasing to his Quebec base, the prime exhibit being his opposition to government help for Montreal’s Bombardier Inc.. His controversial performance as foreign affairs minister will revive concerns about his political judgement.
Odds of winning: 7-1
Strengths: He was a third-place finisher in federal and provincial leadership races, has a trio of cabinet portfolios under his belt and is a social media fixture, yet he’s still not considered the heavyweight in what is still a lightweight lineup of declared wannabes. He is personable enough and has plenty of tentative support if the favorites don’t run.
Weaknesses: He’s got overweight baggage at this leadership check-in counter, specifically the great Muskoka gazebo spending splurge from the G20 budget. And this is starting to sound repetitious, but his French needs a booster shot.
Odds of winning: 10-1
Strengths: She is rumored to have the best leadership organization behind her, which is building a decent war chest. She is true-blue Conservative to the core and that sets her up for a nice ideology clash with progressive wing rivals. And her French is getting better.
Weaknesses: Former staffers complain the pediatric surgeon is a difficult boss, so her bedside manners need improvement. Her term as labor minister was uneventful and being the face of the 2015 campaign vow to launch a barbaric practices snitch line will haunt her all the way to the convention floor.
Odds of winning: 10-1
Strengths: If nice guys finished first, Chong would be the next Conservative leader. This deep-thinking, highly principled, soft-spoken MP has been defined for years by his single-minded pursuit of political reform. He’s mostly moderate in policy – advocating for a carbon tax, for example - and fearlessly stands up for his beliefs, which took guts when they went against the PMO line.
Weakness: Nothing obvious comes to mind beyond the fact he doesn’t loom large as someone with leadership potential. And in these races, perception is reality.
Odds of winning: 15-1
Strengths: With Donald Trump in presidential contention, nothing is impossible if there’s a political establishment backlash in Canada. This brash, all-business, reality-show celebrity is Trump North minus the bizarre ranting. With the Liberals on a gasp-inducing spending spree, his drive to balance the books may look appealing as the election approaches.
Weaknesses: Zero French, zero experience plus little apparent enthusiasm to take a less-glamorous job delivering a massive pay cut suggests this is a vanity fantasy. If there was any doubt, he’s already musing about jumping aboard the Clement campaign as an adviser.
Odds of winning: 25-1
Strengths: The gentle giant of the caucus and father of five is bilingual and has been unexpectedly forceful as an opposition critic. His election as the youngest Speaker ever in 2011 shows he knows how to mobilize caucus support and he clearly has the pulse of the party’s Saskatchewan bedrock.
Weaknesses: He was regarded as a lightweight Speaker and a few decibels shy of inspirational in public speaking. Even diehard Conservatives have a hard time getting a political fix on why the mild-mannered Scheer would want the leadership.
Odds of winning: 30 - 1
Strengths: The feisty Calgary MP would be a reluctant entry. She is pushing her friend Lisa Raitt to enter, but if her progressive moderate views are not represented in the race, she might put her name on the ballot. A formidable organizer in Alberta and beyond, she has plenty of no-nonsense opinions and can be effective in expressing them.
Weaknesses: She can also be fearlessly polarizing, particularly on social media, and her passionate views come across as excessively dramatic at times. She hails from Calgary, which has been over-represented on the party’s leadership.
Odds of winning: 35-1
Strengths: He’s one of the longest serving Conservative MPs. That means nothing in a leadership race. He served as one of the two Harper era foreign affairs parliamentary secretaries on standby in the Commons to read out the talking points. And the Calgary MP wears many scarves, collected along with frequent flier megapoints from his global junkets.
Weaknesses: His only major assignment in government was to land a United Nations Security Council seat for Canada. He assured the foreign affairs minister it was in the bag. We lost with considerable humiliation to Portugal, which had a massive UN IOU for unpaid dues.
Odds of winning: 500-1
Strengths: An acclaimed Official Opposition Leader performance so far.
Weaknesses: She’s disqualified from running by party rules and doesn’t want the job in any event.
Odds of winning: 1,000,000-1
(Surprise bet. Odds she’ll win the leadership of the merged Alberta Conservative party advocated by Jason Kenney: 2-1.)