The Conservative Leadership Race

The choice of the new Conservative leader will be determined by a series of preferential ballots. The results of the first ballot may not be a good indicator of where things will end up.

Useful polling data are impossible to come by. The people who matter will be the 100,000 or so party members who vote on or before May 27th. A poll of all Canadians is certainly not representative of that group. Nor is a poll of people who voted Conservative in the last election.

Neither group will have well-informed views on the candidates, nor will they evaluate them in the same way as partisan party members. The party members in a constituency like Pontiac, Quebec, probably fewer than a hundred, will have the same collective weight as the thousand or more in each of Foothills, Alberta.

That is a good choice by the party, so that they get an appropriate pan-Canadian perspective. But it makes life even tougher for the pollsters to get reliable results.

Éric Grenier of the CBC has developed an index based on endorsements, fundraising, contributors, and polls. It has a good track record in predicting the results of the first ballot in leadership races of all parties, although it might have a tougher time in a race with 14 candidates and a different voting system.

In that system, the last-place candidate on each ballot is dropped off, and his or her votes are redistributed to other candidates based on their second choices—or subsequent choices if their next choice also drops off.

Members will have the opportunity to list up to ten choices, although many will decide on fewer for the excellent reason that they do not have informed views on that many. The final outcome will likely be determined not on how many first place votes any candidate gets, but on how many times they appear among the top five.

To evaluate any candidate’s prospects, it is at least as important to consider how many party members the candidate has offended as the number he or she has attracted.

It is possible to learn something about the policy positions of the candidates by looking at their websites, which all can be accessed via the party’s leadership contest website.

  1. There are many positions that appear frequently, no doubt informed by a perception of what will attract certain segments of the party faithful. It is a curious mix.
  2. On the one hand they advocate for free or freer trade but, with no evident sense of irony, they also promise to “protect supply management for our dairy and poultry farms.”
  3. Conservative membership lists must include a lot of gun-owners. A typical promise undertakes to: “ensure that Canada’s firearms laws respect the rights of honest firearms owners, recognize the fact that hunting and sports shooting are an important part of Canadian culture and history…”
  4. Balancing the budget is a near-unanimous theme, sometimes with detailed explanations of how, and for others the usual undertakings to “…end corporate welfare…”, “force each and every government department to look closely at how their budgets are being spent” and “ensure that the money we spend goes to things that only the federal government can and should be doing…”
  5. There is a lot of support for resource development, and ending the carbon tax: “…Canadians all support cleaner air and water. But a carbon tax won’t do anything to protect our environment. All it will do is increase costs on business and kill jobs…”

These policies are common, but not universal. Next week, we will look at those areas where candidates have taken distinctive positions. And we will consider matters of style which, as Justin Trudeau has demonstrated, are often more influential with voters than matters of substance.

It will not be helpful to analyze all 14 contenders. Bearing in mind the importance of second and subsequent choices on a preferential ballot, there are no good indicators of who is really doing well.

Éric Grenier’s index of rankings in the first round of voting is the best we have. The top half includes Maxime Bernier, Kevin O’Leary, Andrew Scheer, Erin O’Toole, Kellie Leitch, Lisa Raitt, and Michael Chong.

Each of them has a distinctive policy perspective, and personality. Stay tuned.


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