Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong isn’t giving up hope of a dark-horse victory in the final weeks of the hotly contested race.
As the party gets set to choose its new leader on May 27, Chong — one of the first of the 13 candidates to announce he would run — sat down with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos to talk about what he sees as a narrow, but realistic, path to victory.
“Where I differ with all the other candidates is that I’ve said no to bigotry, I’ve said no to targeting immigrants and I’ve said no to targeting visible minorities,” Chong said.
The Conservative race has, at times, been dominated by accusations of anti-immigrant dog-whistling. Candidates have proposed screening newcomers for adherence to so-called Canadian values and sending troops to patrol the border.
Chong said the shock departure of Kevin O’Leary from the race in late April has left the field wide open.
“The fact that the supposed front-runner didn’t think he could win I think, to us, was pretty telling,” he said. “It’s anybody’s guess as to who can win this.”
Still, polling of Conservative members across Canada has shown Quebec’s Maxime Bernier out in front. With ballots already being filled out and mailed back to the party, the race is now considered Bernier’s to lose.
But O’Leary’s support will scatter to various candidates, Chong predicted, and history has shown that only about a third of members may actually cast their ranked ballot.
“It’s not a wide path to victory, but we do have a path,” said the 45-year-old MP for Wellington—Halton Hills. “We think our support base is very, very motivated.”
So far, Chong said he’s had no formal talks with other candidates or campaigns about mergers. And he had a few choice words for those within the party who have dubbed him a “Liberal-light” candidate.
“I think it’s a smear job and I get quite upset about it,” he said.
“I’ve taken a strong position, a conservative position, in favour of stronger action on the environment and I’ve been accused of not being a real Conservative.”
WATCH: Conservative leadership race opens up with O’Learly’s departure
Chong argued that his platform is very conservative, and includes a large income-tax cut, a revenue-neutral carbon tax and a renewed push for democratic reform in the House of Commons and Senate.
“Ultimately what we’re doing here is electing a leader who can win in 2019,” he told Kapelos.
“I am the only candidate that has a chance of taking on Justin Trudeau in 2019. My program appeals to the broad mainstream of Canadians.”
Watch the full interview with Michael Chong above.