Erin O’Toole’s fundraising in the second quarter was $1.24-million with Peter MacKay’s raising $1.16-million. The difference is not that great, but the momentum shift definitely favours O’Toole. The Conservative voting system also lends itself to surprises.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on August 10, 2020.
OTTAWA—In two shorts weeks, the Conservative Party of Canada will vote for a new leader.
If the recent uptick in fundraising numbers holds for Erin O’Toole, the race momentum appears to be shifting.
Internal and public polling put veteran Peter MacKay far ahead of the rest of the pack in terms of party and national support.
The race has been MacKay’s to lose. But like Donald Trump, MacKay has faced a few COVID-caused problems beyond his control.
The front-runner spot in any political race is a double-edged sword. People like to support a winner but if you are too far ahead, you become the lightning rod for all disgruntled party members.
If MacKay is too strong, all other leadership hopefuls will band together to blunt his momentum.
The unforeseen lockdown prompted by the coronavirus forced the party to suspend campaigning and delay the proposed vote by three months.
That spawned more all-candidate discussions, boycotted by MacKay. He attended the two official party debates, both held in Toronto, but declined a debate in Vancouver and another Toronto debate.
He also refused to attend a town hall organized by the Independent Press Gallery of Canada; an organization founded to counter the influence of what it characterizes as “the government-influenced Parliamentary Press Gallery.”
It is common for the front-runner to minimize debate appearances because the format tends to focus everyone’s attack on the leader.
His refusal to attend the Vancouver debate was spun as a spurning of the West.
O’Toole’s strength is certainly more western-centric, with the endorsement of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bringing a broad swathe of elected officials into the O’Toole corner.
The delay appears to have worked slightly in favour of O’Toole, who raised the most money in the last quarter, and also spread the donations amongst a greater number of supporters than the MacKay fundraising efforts.
The candidate with the broadest range of donors is social conservative and Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis. She doubled her quarterly financial haul, increasing donations from $448,000 to $996,000.
Lewis also attracted the most individual donors this quarter with 10,000 contributors, compared to 8,900 for O’Toole and 6,800 for MacKay.
O’Toole fundraising in the second quarter was $1.24-million with MacKay raising $1.16-million.
The difference is not that great, but the momentum shift definitely favours O’Toole.
The Conservative voting system also lends itself to surprises.
The party votes on a points system by riding. With 100 points attached to each riding, divided amongst candidates, a constituency with 10 members has equal voting power to a constituency with 1,000 members.
That means a front-runner in the national popular vote does not necessarily win the election.
We witnessed that phenomenon when future Ontario Premier Doug Ford beat the front-runner in a race that was supposed to be Christine Elliot’s to lose.
Her team was so sure she had the upper hand that they refused a unanimous request by all other candidates to extend the membership deadline to accommodate more participants, and fix glitches in the system.
Ford managed to secure support in remote areas where a few votes actually turned the tide and delivered him the victory.
In reality, Elliott led in the popular vote within the party, but the strategic organizing by the Ford team won the day.
The same thing could happen in the federal race where the first candidate to reach 16,901 points in the race will be elected winner. However, the counting could take several days, because of the complexity of this election system.
MacKay’s campaign strategy to date has been very similar to that of American Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. Say little and do even less.
Biden’s numbers have been climbing since he adopted the silence is golden strategy.
But the same cannot be said for the Conservative front-runner.
The quieter he has become, the more momentum has migrated to his main opponent.
The other element that will help O’Toole is age. The majority of his parliamentary endorsements are newer and younger members.
There is an old adage in politics that says the more experienced you are, the more you have to say and the less you have to do.
New Members of Parliament are out to make their mark and that means delivering as many votes as possible to their preferred candidate.
At this point, the parliamentary endorsements for MacKay and O’Toole are almost equal.
On the eve of the vote, MacKay’s front-runner status is no longer secure. A surprise may be in store.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.