The 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race is under way. Who will be the next leader of the official opposition?
On August 23, 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 July 9, 2020.
|2015 Ontario CPC Candidate|
|Deputy CPC Leader (2004-2015)|
|MP for Durham, ON (2012-pres.)|
|MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington, ON (2019-pres.)|
2020 Conservative Party of Canada Election Results
Erin O’Toole Wins the CPC Leadership
Many will remember the wild events of counting day leading up to it, but the results themselves were of great note. In what some may consider an upset, Peter MacKay did not win the Conservative leadership, and Erin O’Toole did. This is the second-consecutive post-Harper leadership race in which the favourite did not win. Conservatives will hope this turns out better than last time, in which that unexpected leader lost a federal election.
O’Toole can thank the preferences of social conservatives Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan for vaulting him over the more moderate Peter MacKay. The latter underperformed in Quebec and the West, leading to O’Toole jumping him on the second ballot. Lewis’ showing will turn heads, collecting 30 percent on the second ballot before bowing out and making a case for herself as a possible Tory star. The first woman of colour to ever seek the CPC leadership, O’Toole would be wise to bring her into the fold.
Erin O’Toole is mostly unknown outside of the sphere of Conservative politics. He may not have long to put his stamp on the Conservative Party before the next federal election, which may happen before the end of the year. If not, the likelihood of a 2021 election is high with minority governments in Canada not typically lasting more than two years. This in itself could prove detrimental to Conservative electoral fortunes, but only if the election comes soon.
Justin Trudeau may be in no rush to have another vote, however. Just one year after being returned with a minority government, the Liberals again find themselves under the cloud of scandal. Trudeau’s government could point to its approval ratings during the pandemic in a pitch to stay the course, but chances are, an election soon might be almost as dangerous for them as it would be for the Conservatives. The Liberals are going to bet the CPC is unwilling to rush into an election with a little-known leader.
Updated Pre-Election Analysis, July 19
At this time, we still envision a leadership race in which Peter MacKay wins. However, there is little opinion polling to suggest what Conservative party members in Canada will do, and it may not be a runaway win for MacKay in any case.
MacKay, who is no longer in the House of Commons but would have to scurry to find a way back in, could have a plurality of support or even a majority of support, but how can we know? The most recent data point we have of party members was from Mainstreet/iPolitics back in late May which showed Peter MacKay about eight points ahead of Erin O’Toole.3 Since then, Leger has polled Tory supporters and found a bigger lead for MacKay, unless you count the candidate that truly led that poll: “undecided.”4
It’s been seen as a coronation for MacKay but O’Toole has not gone away, and a newer voice, Leslyn Lewis, has attracted support from social conservatives to build some forward momentum. Derek Sloan, still a very new federal MP, appears to have gained the least traction of the candidates.
The assumption that it’s going to be MacKay should be treated with some caution. Several years ago, plenty of people assumed Maxime Bernier had the Tory leadership in the bag. Look at what has happened since: he lost because he wasn’t strong enough in his own province, quit the party, started a new one, and then lost his safe Conservative seat to the party he left. Now, this doesn’t mean Peter MacKay will start a new party if he loses, but just remember: being the “frontrunner” does not mean anything until you win.
Whomever wins the race will have to work quickly to get his or her party on an election footing. The pandemic has given Justin Trudeau daily camera time and his Liberals now have a comfortable lead in opinion polls. In a minority government situation, the non-confidence motion can come at any time, but in reality, nothing will happen this year. As for next year, however? The rebuilding Conservatives will need their new leader to help them rebound their image and be ready for a poll as soon as 2021.
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, https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/conservative-leadership-notebook-otoole-as-attack-dog-the-missing-west-and-deadlines-that-really-matter
2: Stephen Maher, “Why can’t Peter MacKay speak French?,” Macleans.ca, January 27, 2020, https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/why-cant-peter-mackay-speak-french/
3: Mainstreet Research, “Mainstreet Research – Survey of CPC Leadership Race,” Mainstreet Research, May 22, 2020, https://ipolitics.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/CPCLeadership-22May2020.pdf
4: Leger, “Weekly Pandemic Tracker,” Leger, June 22, 2020, https://leger360.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Leger-National-weekly-pandemic-tracker-june-22nd-2020-1.pdf