Raitt needs O’Leary to split Blue Tory vote

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Lisa Raitt is banking on social media technology and new recruitment techniques, to swell Red Tory, anti-O’Leary ranks within the party with online recruitment. In so doing, she is well-positioned to become everyone’s second choice.


Published first on Monday, January 9, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Lisa Raitt’s campaign to stop Kevin O’Leary was brilliant.

It vaulted her to the front of the news cycle during a January political lull. It also set her up as a foil to the Trump-like tendencies of some of the Blue Tories who are already in the race or thinking of joining.

It would be folly to assume that Raitt does not want O’Leary in the race.

A good part of her message last week targeted Kellie Leitch, and the controversial proposed citizenship test of Canadian values.

Raitt needs O’Leary in the race to split the Blue Tory vote.

If that sounds complicated, two voting rules guarantee a campaign roller coaster ride in the months leading up to the May vote.

First, the Tories have adopted preferential balloting, which means that voters will actually rank their preferred candidates.

Ironically, that same system was one of the options proposed to replace the first-past-the-post general election vote, without much support from the Conservative Party.

The new system means the winner may not be the first choice of the greatest number of voters, but rather the second choice of the majority.

If this sounds complicated, it is one of the reasons that most people exit the conversation when the subject of electoral reform is broached.

But the peregrinations are compelling for political animals who follow leadership conventions with the same passion the rest of us reserve for hockey championships.

The greater the number of leadership candidates, the more Raitt needs to divide the vote in order to come up the middle. 

In other words, she needs the blunt force trauma that O’Leary’s candidacy would ignite to limit the potential migration of Blue Con votes to Leitch.

During multiple press appearances, Raitt spent more time railing on Leitch than on O’Leary, reinforcing her real intent in launching the Stop O’Leary website.

The site will also permit her supporters to get immediate access to email data of potential Conservative voters who don’t align with the values of O’Leary, and coincidentally, Leitch.

Raitt’s team followed up her press appearances with the purchase of a pop-up ad on social media flagging the Stop O’Leary website on all national news apps.

That data mining will be golden in recruiting more members and mobilizing an anti-O’Leary movement with the hopes of converting it to a pro-Raitt force.

The second element that makes the Raitt strategy so smart is the party’s decision to give equal electoral weight to every riding in the country, regardless of the number of registered Tories entitled to vote.

Raitt is one of only two Conservative candidates with ties to Atlantic Canada. She was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia to a family which shared a passion for business and unions. That could explain her visceral reaction to an O’Leary vow that, if in government, he would outlaw unions.

The other Conservative with Atlantic roots is fellow Ontario contender Erin O’Toole. He served in Shearwater and attended law school in Halifax during his career in the armed forces as a regular and reservist.

Even though the Tories were wiped out in Atlantic Canada in the last election, they have deep roots and strong provincial organizations in every province.

East coast ridings have as much weight as vote-rich Alberta, so anyone who can sweep Atlantic Canada has a good chance of being toward the front of the pack on voting day May 27.

Raitt’s bold move will allow her to recruit Red Tories who have a deep connection to the party and do not want to see it go down the same path as the Republican extremism south of the border.

Many Atlantic Conservatives yearn for the time when they used to be progressive, and there are plenty of Tory icons, from Flora MacDonald to John Crosbie, who never supported the Conservatives’ shift to the right under Stephen Harper.

Raitt is banking on social media technology and new recruitment techniques, to swell Red Tory, anti-O’Leary ranks within the party with online recruitment. In so doing, she is well-positioned to become everyone’s second choice.

That is where the likeability factor can have an influence

The risk in launching such a public attack on O’Leary and Leitch is that Raitt may bruise her reputation for likeability.

It requires a delicate balance to trash colleagues with a smile.

If she succeeds in establishing herself as the most viable progressive Conservative choice, she may be able to eclipse the neo-cons in the race.

Raitt’s move is a political game changer.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era Cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.