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Erin O’Toole, former Tory leader candidate, holds meeting to plan new campaign bid

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Former Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole held a five-hour meeting in the Toronto area Monday to suss out a plan to make another bid for the party’s top job.

About 20 people from across the country gathered to present O’Toole with a plan to win the upcoming contest, The Canadian Press has learned.

O’Toole placed third in the 2017 leadership race that ended with Andrew Scheer beating Maxime Bernier by a hair.

READ MORE: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer resigns, vows to stay on until new leader chosen

But Scheer announced earlier this month he’s resigning, a move that came after weeks of intense criticism of how he handled the October election.

Fred DeLorey, a veteran conservative organizer, said an accomplished group is ready to help O’Toole lead the party to victory in the next one.

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“These are people who understand that we need Erin to keep our conservative coalition united and know he can win a leadership and ultimately defeat Justin Trudeau in a general election,” DeLorey said.

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MP Matt Jeneroux on future of Conservative party post-Andrew Scheer

DeLorey ran O’Toole’s 2017 campaign, and has helped run several others, including get-out-the-vote efforts for Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

O’Toole’s ability to communicate in French and the fact he has “real life” experience were key themes in the meeting, one source in the room said.

O’Toole served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and went on to become a corporate lawyer. He entered politics in a 2012 byelection for the seat in the Toronto-area riding of Durham.

He went on to serve in cabinet in the last Conservative government.

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READ MORE: Former MP Lisa Raitt to help run Conservative leadership race

O’Toole effectively handed Scheer his win in the 2017 race. Bernier had been in the lead until O’Toole’s name dropped off the ballot after the 11th round of voting. More of O’Toole’s supporters had selected Scheer as their next choice, so he won the race by less than a percentage point.

While a preferential ballot will again be used for the upcoming leadership vote, several other key elements have yet to be determined, including when it will be held.

A committee charged with figuring out the logistics around the race was only put together late last week. The leadership election organizing committee, as it is known, is being run by Lisa Raitt, another former leadership candidate and Conservative MP, and Dan Nowlan, who ran the 2017 contest.

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Among the issues they’re wrestling with are the requirements to enter the contest. In 2017, candidate had to pay $100,000 and get signatures from 300 party members from at least 30 electoral districts in at least seven different provinces and territories.

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Thirteen people met those requirements and debate is ongoing about whether setting the bar — financial or otherwise — higher would make for a smaller field, something many party members are hoping to see.

The timing of the race is also up in the air. A Conservative party policy convention scheduled for April has been pushed back to November. Some party members want the leadership vote held before, while others want a longer contest to allow for better debate.

READ MORE: Rona Ambrose most favoured by Canadians to be next Tory leader, survey suggests

Several potential candidates have been actively testing the waters for a leadership bid since Scheer stepped down.

Three of them — current MPs Pierre Poilievre and Gerard Deltell, and former cabinet minister Peter MacKay — all made an appearance at a high-profile Conservative Christmas party in Boucherville, Que., two weeks ago, shaking hands and posing for photos with party members.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest is also considering a run, as is former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

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Pierre Poilievre says ‘too early to say’ if running for leadership, outlines what party needs

Meanwhile, Bryan Brulotte has stepped back from his job as CEO of the employment firm MaxSys to explore a bid. He has historic connections to the party, having worked for the Progressive Conservatives in the short-lived government of Kim Campbell.

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Another potential candidate is Aron Seal, who is fashioning a campaign under the banner of being a “millennial conservative.” He worked as director of policy for former finance minister Jim Flaherty.