Ontario MP Kellie Leitch to officially enter Conservative leadership race

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OTTAWA – Ontario MP Kellie Leitch is officially launching her bid for Conservative leadership Wednesday, The Canadian Press has learned.

Leitch will submit her application to the party on Wednesday. Once it is approved, she will take the next step of registering with Elections Canada.

Sources close to Leitch say the move is intended to give her greater flexibility to be out in public raising funds and talking to party members about where she would like to lead the Conservatives in the coming months.

Leitch, the first out of the gate, won’t have long to wait for company on the campaign trail. Quebec MP Maxime Bernier is expected to file his leadership application on Thursday.

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Leitch, 45, has been assembling a team for weeks to support her bid and has already been holding fundraisers and speaking to party faithful to raise her own profile.

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While she has been active in politics since she was a teenager, she was drawn into office by former Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty and is counting on some of his supporters as she ramps up her bid.

Also in her circle are former organizers with the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. Leitch is taking a page from the successful leadership campaign of Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown in trying to recruit new members to support her run.

Brown credited his victory in that party’s leadership race in part to selling more than 40,000 memberships. But while Brown drew strength from new Canadian communities, that’s one constituency where Leitch may have a tougher time.

She was the federal party’s point person during the fall election campaign for a promise to launch a tip line on so-called “barbaric cultural practices,” a move that drew scorn from many ethnic groups.

READ MORE: Maxime Bernier to officially enter Conservative leadership race

Leitch, who is also a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, speaks French though does not consider herself bilingual. One of the co-chairs of her campaign bid is Dany Renauld, the head of a Quebec-based marketing and advertising firm.

The vote for the next leader of the Conservative Party is scheduled for May 27, 2017, but the party faithful will be gathering in Vancouver this spring for a policy convention.

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While the rules for the leadership race were set in March, many consider the convention to be the real starting point for the leadership race.

Other people considering a bid including MPs Jason Kenney, Michael Chong, Tony Clement, Andrew Scheer and Lisa Raitt.

So far, the only party outsider who has suggested an interest in the job is businessman and TV personality Kevin O’Leary.

In a statement to The Canadian Press, he said he has still not made up his mind.

READ MORE: Patrick Brown pushes for Conservatives to establish climate change plan

“Way too early for any candidate to comment, including me!,” he said in an email.

The party requires candidate applications to be backed by 300 signatures from party members from no less than 30 electoral districts from at least seven different provinces and territories.

Candidates must also pay a $50,000 fee – half up front when they register and then the rest later. They also have to give the party a further $50,000 to be held in case they break any campaign rules.

The maximum candidates will be allowed to spend on the race is $5 million.

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Registering with Elections Canada also sets in motion requirements to disclose donations and campaign spending.

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