The longtime Ontario MP wrote in a series of tweets Thursday afternoon that he had been building a team to prepare for a possible run to replace Andrew Scheer, but was abandoning those plans for family reasons.
“In criss-crossing the country, I have been overwhelmed with the favourable response,” he wrote. “I knew it would be hard on my family life to do this. But I did not realize how hard.
“It is harder still because I had just spent the earlier 18 months campaigning furiously to win back my seat in the recent federal election, I mostly missed the 1st year of our baby’s life.”
Poilievre said that his “heart is not fully engaged” in the leadership race.
One source said campaign staff close to Poilievre started to notice he appeared torn about running over the last three weeks — concerned about the impact on his family, especially his 14-month-old daughter.
Those feelings escalated in recent days according to sources on the campaign, who said it became clear Poilievre was seriously considering not running.
Campaign staff frantically tried to convince him to stick with his bid to no avail, sources said. Poilievre began making phone calls to say he would not run on Thursday morning.
Conservative sources both inside and outside Poilievre’s camp said he had the cash and organization to run a successful campaign.
One source said he had strong caucus support and many on his campaign believed he was the front-runner with a strong chance of winning the race.
On Thursday evening, some of Poilievre’s supporters told Global News they understood his decision but were disappointed and shocked nonetheless.
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The Conservatives are poised to name a new leader in Toronto on June 27.
A senior Conservative source expressed concern about the state of the race so far, noting Poilievre is the third high-profile Tory who has recently decided against pursuing the leadership.
On Tuesday, former Quebec premier Jean Charest revealed he will not be joining the race.
Former cabinet minister Rona Ambrose announced Wednesday that she too was out.
“I want to thank you for all your messages of encouragement and support to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada,” she wrote a statement accompanying a video message. “It is humbling to be considered at all — because I love our party, I love the people in it and I love our country,”
The senior Conservative source said the leadership contest is shaping up to be a battle between Peter MacKay and MP Erin O’Toole, with MacKay believed to be the favourite to win.
O’Toole has not yet declared whether he would pursue a leadership bid.
MacKay, a former MP who served as justice and defence minister under Stephen Harper, has entered the race, as well as Marilyn Gladu, who has represented a riding in Southwestern Ontario since 2015. She is currently the party’s critic for the health portfolio.
Rookie Conservative MP Derek Sloan, only just elected in the fall, has also said he will run, as has Rick Peterson, an Alberta businessman.
Scheer announced he would step down in December after weeks of speculation about his political future after the Liberals were re-elected to a minority in the October election.
–With files from Mercedes Stephenson and Amanda Connolly, Global News