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Well, it’s Christmas time again for us Canadian politics nerds. That’s right, it is once again party leadership election season, in the midst of a global crisis, no less.

Sarcasm aside, it is indeed a busy time on all fronts for those of us who like giving our two cents on the current Canadian political landscape. I’ve shared most, if not all of my thoughts on the Ukrainian invasion at this point. Even though I’ve already looked at the upcoming Conservative Party leadership race a little bit as well, with a handful of additional major candidates now in the running, I figured now’s as good a time as any to offer some analysis on the declared candidates and how the race might play out come September.

With all that out of the way: let’s get into it. 

I’ll spend the least time on Poilievre, as I talked about him a fair amount in my initial reaction to O’Toole’s ousting by his caucus. Poilievre is eager, whip smart when it comes to politics, and he seems to really appeal to the Conservative Party base, which gives him a big early advantage.

Even though polling for Canadian political party leadership races is notoriously unreliable and it’s incredibly early in the process, he is currently way out in front with 41 per cent of support amongst party members. Given the unique voting method used to elect party leaders, the fact that lower tier candidates like Roman Baber and Leslyn Lewis (who I will talk more about shortly) seemingly overlap with Poilievre in terms of political framing, policy positions, and supporters, means Poilievre has the strongest chance of clinching this thing, at least at this early point in the race.

His closest rival, again, at this very early stage in the race, appears to be Jean Charest. A wholly different brand of conservative from Poilievre, Charest previously led the centrist predecessor to the modern Conservative Party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, back in the 1990s. He then went on to lead the province of Quebec as premier for nearly a decade under the Liberal Party banner. This will be an easy cheap shot used by his competitors throughout the race I’m sure, but the reality is that the Quebec Liberal Party is a whole different beast than the one on the federal level, and to ignore that reality is blatantly misleading, but I digress.

Charest may not be a Liberal, but he certainly is not of the contemporary right-wing ilk that’s all the rage these days. However, even though he may not be one to excite the base, Charest is someone that should be seriously considered by Conservative members from a strategic perspective. Having a built-in Quebec constituency would be a major win for the party, as making major inroads in Quebec is going to be key to electoral victory for them. He’s also incredibly experienced in both governing and winning elections (not with the PC’s mind you, but he has a few wins under his belt in Quebec) both of which make for a stark contrast to the party’s last two leaders.

However, at the same time, Charest comes with a fair amount of baggage. Though he may have served for a long time as Quebec’s premier, he wasn’t exactly well-liked upon leaving office. He had grown quite unpopular with the Quebec electorate come 2012, as he and his government made quite a few enemies in their efforts to reduce government spending and in raising student tuition fees

He was also embroiled in a corruption investigation regarding some illegal party financing, though he quite recently was cleared of any wrongdoing in relation to this, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make for good political fodder come election time. 

Last but not least, he’s also most recently done some consultancy work for Huawei, particularly in relation to the Meng Wanzhou extradition situation and the retaliatory hostage-taking of the two Michaels by the Chinese government. This one will likely be his biggest hurdle, as the whole two Michaels situation was a major point of interest for both the Conservative Party and much of its base not so long ago. Let’s just say, I’m sure reframing his business relationship with Huawei is an urgent priority for his campaign right now.

Regardless, it seems that this race will once again boil down to a fight between the moderates and the right-wingers, driving a wedge deeper into that intra-party divide that I discussed in further detail a few weeks ago. Will the moderate wing be represented by Charest? At this early date it seems likely, though he’s not the only one vying for that position.

The other is Patrick Brown, a familiar name to those who followed Ontario politics around this time four years ago. Brown was embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations that forced him to resign less than half a year before almost certainly beating the most hated woman in Ontario politics, Kathleen Wynne, and becoming Premier of Ontario. Instead, he paved the way for none other than Doug Ford to swoop in at the last minute and nearly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Brown was quick to bounce back from the whole situation though, as he was elected mayor of Brampton in the municipal elections later that fall, and that’s where he’s been ever since, apparently planning his run for leader of the federal Conservative Party? If you couldn’t tell, Brown’s candidacy is a real mystery to me. I’m not sure the path to victory that was sold to him by consultants looking for a payday, but to me it seems extremely narrow at best. So far he’s seemingly positioned himself as pursuing the moderate lane against Charest, but truthfully I don’t see him as being much of a fixture in this race. 

Speaking of not being much of a fixture in this race, there’s Roman Baber. A backbench MPP in Doug Ford’s caucus, Baber made headlines when he pushed back against the government’s approach to vaccine mandates and lockdown measures, at which point he was kicked from caucus. Since then he’s sat as an independent, but has found an audience outside of Ontario politics with the “Freedom Convoy” crowd. 

To me he comes off a lot like Derek Sloan did in the last leadership race; someone just looking to stir the pot and put some figurative points on the board for his hyper niche base, possibly for the purpose of getting a book deal, securing some lucrative speaking engagements, or, like in Sloan’s case, starting an irrelevant third party. He’ll probably raise a good amount of money and may have some rowdy campaign events, but his chances at victory are slim.

That leaves us with one candidate: Leslyn Lewis. I saved her for last for a reason, as she is certainly the most unpredictable candidate in terms of both her impact on the race and her ability to actually win the top job.

For those not aware: Leslyn Lewis ran as a complete outsider for the Conservative leadership in 2020, and as such she received absolutely zero media coverage early on. However, they did start to take notice of her after her strong first debate performance. Then, she raised even more eyebrows when it was revealed that she had the most individual donors of any leadership campaign and that she raised nearly as much money as the presumed frontrunners Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay in the second financial quarter. Then, come election night, she actually received the most votes on the second ballot, which came as a shock to just about everyone.

Even though she would go on to lose due to the party’s convoluted leadership voting system, Lewis’ out-of-nowhere performance in the race garnered her a lot of attention in political circles, so much so that she was recruited to run for the party in the last election. Now, with experience as an MP under her belt and a political network at her disposal, Lewis has the potential to either be a devastating spoiler for someone like Poilievre, or to even go all the way with it.

The issue I have with saying definitively what impact I think Lewis will have on the race is because lightning rarely strikes twice in Canadian politics. Moments are very much fleeting things, and with a stronger batch of candidates this time around compared to 2020, including some who encroach on her more social conservative and right-wing political territory, Lewis could also very possibly just fade into the background this time around. Whatever happens with her campaign though, rest assured that it will play a considerable role in who goes on to win this thing.

Well, as usual, I promised a “short” analysis and here we are 1,500 words later (that should show you how much of a sucker I am for a party leadership race). I’m sure I’ll be following this race quite closely, especially as I look for things to get my mind off of the conflict in Europe when that gets to be too overwhelming to focus on. Until then, I’ll be here, eagerly awaiting to see how this thing shakes out like the Canadian politics nerd I am.