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Coronavirus: Tory leadership contender drops out, citing growing pandemic

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WATCH: (From March 8, 2020) Conservatives need a new vision: Husny – Mar 8, 2020

Conservative leadership candidate Rudy Husny called off his campaign Thursday, saying it is just not right to ask people for money during a public health emergency.

His announcement came as Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis and Conservative MP Derek Sloan joined Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay on the ballot for the June 27 vote, with less than a week to go for contenders to make the cutoff.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent most of the country into lockdown, among other things forcing the cancellation of mass gatherings — including the all-important kinds of get-togethers that are crucial in a leadership race.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Conservatives tweak leadership race approach but keep deadlines amid outbreak

But so far, the Conservative party has refused to budge on the March 25 deadline for candidates to pay $300,000 in fees and submit 3,000 signatures to be eligible to run.

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One reason? The party’s constitution requires the option of mail-in ballots for the vote, and that’s how the vast majority of members did vote in the 2017 contest, won by Andrew Scheer.

Party officials feel that since there are candidates who have met the requirements, and that mail-in ballots currently remain a viable choice, they can stick to the deadline.

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They have provided some help to contenders in the form of creating an online membership submission portal and have offered to promote events.

Husny, who made a decision to run for leadership after years as a political aide and businessman, said Thursday he turned them down.

“During this national health crisis, I don’t have the heart to call our members to ask them to support my nomination and to donate money,” he said in a statement.

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“I wouldn’t be true to myself if I did continue this campaign.”

Husny’s decision to suspend his campaign follows a choice by candidate Rick Peterson earlier this week to look for other sources of funds instead of asking members for donations at a time when most people are worried about making ends meet.

Candidate Marilyn Gladu has also called for the race to be postponed, arguing that keeping it going makes the party look cold and out of touch. She said Thursday she’ll keep trying to meet the deadline, and there is still time for the party to change its mind.

“There is no reason to insist upon clinging to deadlines which were arbitrarily set before COVID-19 became an issue in Canada,” she said.

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Husny said if he doesn’t qualify, he hopes the party gives his $25,000 entry fee to the Red Cross.

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The Conservative party is collecting $200,000 from each candidate in fees; the remaining $100,000 is a refundable deposit contenders get back if they follow all the rules.

The fees are designed to offset the cost of running the leadership race and, as the party collects donations on behalf of candidates, it’s also taking 10 per cent of those.

READ MORE: Conservative candidates scramble to the last wire as leadership deadline looms

But the party has also continued to fundraise on its own, sending out email blasts to supporters as recently as Monday asking for financial support.

Party spokesman Cory Hann said given their operations are 100 per cent funded by donors, and that they are now incurring unexpected costs driven by the need to set up staff to work remotely, they need to raise money.

While Conservative fundraisers usually take the form of pointed attacks on government, the one sent Monday focused instead on the party doing its part to combat the spread of COVID-19 by moving operations remotely, and urging members to stay healthy.

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The shift in tone is deliberate, said Hann.

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“We understand that many Canadians are not able to give at the moment,” he said in an email.

“So through this we’ll be taking a different approach on donation asks that take that into account.”

Eight candidates altogether were trying to get on the ballot for the vote by March 25.

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O’Toole and MacKay met the required threshold weeks ago, while Lewis and Sloan were added to their ranks officially on Thursday.

Longtime Ontario conservative activist Jim Karahalios claims he’s on the ballot as well, but his name has yet to be added to the official party list.

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