Conservative leadership race: meet the candidates

It's a bit of a crowded field, but some candidates are rising to the top – so who's who?

While many people aren’t yet following the campaigns of the coming provincial election, there may be even fewer who are following the race for the Conservative Party leadership election, also taking place in May.

No matter your political leanings, the leadership race will have an impact on your life. As the NDP and Green parties both lost footing last election, the next race is likely to be hotly contested between Justin Trudeau and the Conservative nominee. So who’s running?

There are fourteen candidates vying for leadership, leaving a crowded field, but four people are demanding attention. A poll published on Feb. 23 by IPSOS showed that Kevin O’Leary is leading the race with 20.9 per cent vote share. Kellie Leitch took 16.2 per cent, followed closely by Maxime Bernier with 15.3 per cent. Erin O’Toole’s voting interest comes in lower with only 4.1 per cent of the party leaning his way, but he has won the endorsement of several Conservative MPs and former MPs.

First, the big name: Kevin O’Leary. Fans of Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank will no doubt recognize the business magnate and entrepreneur who threw his hat into the ring for Tory leadership just over a month ago. Running on an anti-government platform of Canadian job creation, low (to no) taxation and a powerful business-oriented market, some people view him as Canada’s Donald Trump. O’Leary has gained a lot of traction in his campaign through that comparison, as well as the fact that he’s running primarily self-funded.

Maxime Bernier is an Quebec MP who worked in Stephen Harper’s cabinet from 2006 to 2008 and 2011 to 2015, and now is a critic in Rona Ambrose’s official opposition Conservative party. Bernier’s colleagues in parliament have referred to him as “the Albertan from Quebec” because of his pro-business, libertarian rhetoric. In December 2015 during an interview with Huffington Post Canada, Bernier defined his platform as a “more decentralized federalism, a smaller government less involved in Canadians’ day-to-day lives, as well as more personal freedoms,” also saying that Harper likely lost the election because voters “rejected the perception of the personality of the prime minister, but they did not reject the program of the party: lower taxes, respect for the Constitution, promises not to run deficits.”

Bernier has recently come out stating that he will implement a 15 per cent flat tax across the nation, something many people – conservatives and others alike – have voiced their support for. The National Post reported that May through September of last year, Bernier received more donations than any other candidate. He raised $370,000 from nearly 2,000 donors over the time period.

Kellie Leitch is relative youngster in the race at 46 years old, and she has only sat in the House of Commons since 2011. Before that, she was an orthopedic surgeon. Her platform takes a hard-right “Canadian Values” stance that addresses some Canadians’ discontent with the economy and rate of immigration. Leitch garnered international attention and criticism when she took a strong stance against immigration, and has since gained more support than her competitors. In an interview with CBC, she compared herself to U.S. President Donald Trump, saying “I am talking about screening immigrants. I am talking about building pipelines. I am talking about making sure Canadians have jobs, so yeah, some of the ideas and language are the same [as Trump].”

Erin O’Toole, an MP from Ontario, is as qualified as Bernier and boasts military service to supplement his resumé. In an interview with CBC, O’Toole said of his platform that “we need to reconnect with more Canadians, we need to show Canadians that government can and must be more than sunny ways slogans and photo ops. We need to build on the strengths and successes of our past while actively seeking opportunities to win back the trust of Canadians.”

O’Toole has been endorsed by just under 40 MPs, ex-MPs, and others across the nation. When asked who she was supporting in the election, Kamloops MP Cathy McCleod expressed her support for O’Toole.

Ed. note: A previous version of this article misstated the province in which Maxime Bernier is an MP. It has been corrected to Quebec.