Canadian Elections

2020 Conservative Party of Canada Leadership Race

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2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race

The 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race is under way. Who will be the next leader of the official opposition?

On June 27, 2020, the Conservatives will choose their new leader, who will replace the outgoing Andrew Scheer. We have the list of candidates and the backstory on this leadership contest.


Leadership races never begin because a party did well in a recent election.

On October 21, 2019, Canada voted in its 2019 federal election, which we covered on Electionarium. While the Conservatives gained over 20 seats and reduced Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority government (with an assist by the Bloc Quebecois), the CPC underperformed expectations. Even though they caught the Liberals in the national popular vote, their results in Ontario in particular let them down. The CPC did not make the inroads they needed or expected, claiming just minimal gains. Some blame an unpopular Progressive Conservative government in Ontario, while others blamed Scheer himself.

The pressure got to Scheer, who did not at first resign. About two months after the election, under continuous scrutiny from within the party, he announced his departure from the leadership, beginning this 2020 race.

2020 Conservative Party of Canada Leadership Candidates

Candidates listed in surname alphabetical order. Updated February 29, 2020.

Marilyn Gladu
MP for Sarnia-Lambton, ON (2015-pres.)
Jim Karahalios
Conservative Activist
Rudy Husny
Conservative Activist
Leslyn Lewis
2015 Ontario PC Candidate
Peter MacKay
Deputy CPC Leader (2004-2015)
Erin O’Toole
MP for Durham, ON (2012-pres.)
Rick Peterson
2017 CPC Leadership Candidate
Derek Sloan
MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington, ON (2019-pres.)

Pre-Election Analysis

There is a decided lack of heavy-hitters in the current Tory field, and those from west of Ontario. It feels like Peter MacKay’s to lose, but the social conservative wing of the party may see to it that he does.

The 800-pound/363-kilogram gorilla in the room did not jump into the race. Once Rona Ambrose, former leader of the opposition, stepped out of the way, that cleared the field. Now seen as the frontrunner is Peter MacKay, once the leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives who merged his party with Stephen Harper’s Canadian Alliance. MacKay did not seek the initial CPC leadership back in 2004, but MacKay was Harper’s second-in-command for 11 years. Now, he feels it is his time to ascend to the leadership. The question is, will this be a coronation of MacKay the way it could have been one for Ambrose?

Time will tell on that. MacKay is seen as a “safe” choice: an experienced parliamentarian, well-known within the CPC, a former cabinet minister and deputy leader, and more socially moderate. Social views are perceived to be one of the issues that sank Andrew Scheer. Appealing to the East, Ontario in particular, will be a Conservative priority over the next few years and in the lead-up to the next election. That is scheduled for late 2023, but true minority governments in the Canadian House of Commons never last a full term. Tories will be preparing for an election sooner, perhaps in 2021 or 2022, and some may find MacKay the best pair of hands to which to entrust the leadership. A potential issue for him in that Eastern appeal, however, is his lack of proficiency in French.1

MacKay will not be alone in the race, however. Erin O’Toole is an Ontario MP who may emerge as MacKay’s chief rival in the 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership election. O’Toole wasted no time in going after MacKay as being to the left of the Conservative Party.2 He has been on the frontbench of the Conservative Party himself, and could position himself as the “right” alternative to MacKay. If this race becomes a Red Tory vs. Blue Tory affair, then Conservatives will have to ask themselves what they want in light of the events of the 2019 election. Just imagine what the Red Tories would have been saying if it was Maxime Bernier who lost the 2019 election for them.

But, what happens with the West? You know, the region of Canada that went almost entirely blue in the last federal election? They are still important to the Conservatives for obvious reasons, and the lack of prominent Westerners stepping up for the leadership is quite interesting. After Ambrose ducked the race, this created opportunities for some like Michelle Rempel Garner and Christy Clark to jump in, but neither has done so as of February 1. Even Stephen Harper’s name was floated, but the former prime minister is out of the running. Will Rick Peterson make himself the “candidate of the West,” and how far would it get him? Much is left to be decided.


1: Brian Platt and Stuart Thomson, “Conservative leadership notebook: O’Toole as attack dog, the missing West, and deadlines that really matter,” National Post, January 31, 2020,

2: Stephen Maher, “Why can’t Peter MacKay speak French?,”, January 27, 2020,

X: More on Canadian elections can be found here at Electionarium.

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