OTTAWA – Without Kevin O’Leary in the race, Maxime Bernier has what may be an insurmountable lead in the race to succeed Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The Bernier campaign has provided its latest polling data to Global News and it shows the Quebec MP with a comfortable lead of 35 per cent over Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer, at 19 per cent.
Some of Bernier’s rival campaigns and the only independent pollster who has access to the list of actual voters in the race agree Bernier is in front though there is a difference of opinion as to by how much.
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The Bernier campaign polled 6,268 individuals drawn from the list of the 260,000 people who are eligible to cast a ballot or who have already cast a ballot. The poll was done April 24-27 after O’Leary dropped out of the race and endorsed Bernier.
A source at Mainstreet Research, an independent pollster affiliated with no campaign which has been polling Conservative Party voters on behalf of iPolitics.ca, said the Bernier campaign’s polling data appears to be broadly in line with its own data.
Mainstreet and iPolitics.ca are expected to publish their first post-O’Leary poll drawn from the voting list of 260,000 on Tuesday morning.
(UPDATE on May 3, 2017: Mainstreet and iPolitics.ca published that poll on May 2. iPolitics.ca reported that Mainstreet reached 1,004 leadership race voters from April 29 to 30 and found, with a margin of error of +/- 3.09 per cent, 19 times out of 20, that Bernier is the first choice of 31.2 per cent of those polled, followed by Andrew Scheer at 22 per cent.)
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Some of the pollsters for Bernier’s rivals, speaking on condition neither they nor their campaign be identified, conceded that Bernier is indeed the front-runner though some suggested the gap between Bernier and Scheer may be tighter than what the Bernier campaign is reporting.
The other campaigns, however, would not, as the Bernier campaign has done, release their polling data.
In addition to finding Bernier at 35 per cent and Scheer at 19 per cent, the Bernier campaign pollster found Kellie Leitch in third spot at 11.3 per cent followed by Erin O’Toole at 9.8 per cent, Michael Chong at 7.9 percent and Lisa Raitt at 6.5 per cent.
Again, while other campaigns might have different specific numbers, there appears to be no argument about the ranking of those candidates.
The source at independent pollster, Mainstreet, also agrees with that ranking.
The party is using a ranked ballot in which each riding is weighted equally at 100 points. That forces each candidate to show some strength right across the country to try to become the first to record 16,901 points — the equivalent of 50 per cent plus 1 — and become the leader.
The Bernier campaign pollster shows Bernier and Scheer as very close in the 32 ridings on the east coast — 26.6 per cent for Bernier to 23.4 per cent for Scheer. But Bernier has with a big lead in Ontario where 121 ridings and 11,200 points are up for grabs — 30.6 per cent, compared to 14.6 per cent for Scheer.
In Quebec, with 78 ridings, Bernier has a massive lead of 48.5 per cent versus second-place Scheer at 16.7 per cent.
Scheer leads big in his home province of Saskatchewan at 50.7 per cent to Bernier’s 22.1 per cent, but Saskatchewan has only 14 ridings or 1,400 points.
Scheer is second to Bernier in Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia.
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Using the Bernier campaign numbers, Bernier would win as early as the seventh ballot or as late as the ninth ballot.
In the ranked ballot system, the candidate with the lowest number of votes drops off and his or her second preference is then counted. The votes of the candidate dropping off are redistributed until one candidate gets to the 50-per-cent-plus-one threshold.
Ballots were arriving in mailboxes last week and all ballots should have been delivered this week. Moreover, campaign insiders expect that, even though the votes won’t be officially counted until May 27, at least half the ballots will have been cast by early this week.
“We’re at the equivalent of 2:30 in the afternoon on election day,” said a campaign insider.
That also means it may be too late for a candidate like Raitt or O’Toole to endorse Scheer in an attempt to prevent Bernier from winning.
READ MORE: Conservative leadership not a lock for Maxime Bernier, says pollster
In any event, Bernier is a popular — often the most popular — second pick of those who support most other candidates.
When Michael Chong, for example, drops off the ballot, most or 32 per cent of his supporters would pick Raitt but 22.2 per cent would pick Bernier and 15.7 per cent would pick Scheer.
When Raitt drops off the ballot, most or 28 per cent of her supporters would pick Bernier and just 16 per cent pick Scheer.
Bernier is also the most preferred second-choice pick for Leitch and O’Toole supporters. Scheer is the top second choice pick for Chris Alexander and Brad Trost supporters but between them, Alexander and Trost supporters make up less than 7 per cent of voters.
Other campaigns, though, caution that the race is not yet a lock for Bernier because voter turnout is likely to impact each campaign differently.
Voters who signed up with the party in recent weeks — that would be many O’Leary’s supporters — are seen as less likely to vote than those who have been long-time supporters.