COMMENTARY: Delaying the Conservative leadership race is the right decision

Coronavirus outbreak: Erin O’Toole calls on Tories to delay leadership vote
WATCH: (March 22, 2020) In a video posted to Facebook, Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole called for the June 27 leadership race to be delayed, and that his supporters devote what resources they have to the needs of their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It might be unfair to compare the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) or to compare an Olympics to a party leadership race.

The obvious similarity is that it would be wonderful to be in a world right now where these events would make sense, where we could proceed as normal and we could talk about them and cover them the exact same way we have in the past.

We are clearly not in that world at the moment. Hopefully, we’ll be back to something resembling it relatively soon.

So it was interesting to see which of these organizations would come to their senses first. In ended up being the IOC, as it turns out, but the CPC was not far behind.

Coronavirus outbreak: Olympics postponement is about saving lives, says IOC chief Bach
Coronavirus outbreak: Olympics postponement is about saving lives, says IOC chief Bach

And just as the IOC needed to be pressured to make the right decision — thanks in large part to Canada’s leadership — it was pressure from within that appears to have forced the CPC’s hand. Unfortunately, the perceived frontrunner in the race was not among those for whom the right decision was obvious.

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The CPC’s leadership election organizing committee (LEOC) announced Friday that the decision had been made to officially suspend the leadership race. The LEOC noted that with their headquarters now included in the closure of non-essential businesses in Ontario and Quebec , it is “no longer possible to meet the deadlines necessary to process memberships and donations, or print, process and count ballots in time for a June 27 announcement.”

READ MORE: Conservative Party leadership race suspended, committee cites COVID-19 pandemic

This was the realization that Erin O’Toole and other leadership candidates had come to at various points over the last 10 days or so. But Peter MacKay, for some strange reason, continued to insist that the race proceed right up until the decision was made.

Although MacKay tweeted yesterday that he and his team “respect the decision,” he fired off several tweets the day before demanding the opposite.

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He posted an image of an old rotary phone alongside the words “democracy is calling — will you answer?” He posted a bizarre video of a rocky island with the words “we can’t delay democracy — it’s our duty to vote” swirling into place on top of the image.

He posted another video and two separate images all with the words “Freedom and democracy can’t wait.” And again, this was all in just one day.

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None of this is to suggest that Peter MacKay is not concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak, but his clumsy and myopic focus on ensuring that the leadership race continue amid the backdrop of this pandemic seems rather tone-deaf and short-sighted. For someone who very clearly wants to be the next leader of the party and prime minister of the country, he hasn’t exactly done himself any favours as of late.

Obviously, there will still be a leadership race and vote at some point. No one has talked about calling it off altogether and there’s no indication that Andrew Scheer is going to try and undo his resignation and stay on permanently as leader. Nor is he throwing in the towel. Scheer remains a sitting M.P. and is clearly prepared to do his part in working through this situation.

Coronavirus outbreak: Scheer says Conservatives focused on passing emergency measures to support Canadians
Coronavirus outbreak: Scheer says Conservatives focused on passing emergency measures to support Canadians

Moreover, there is no realistic likelihood of an election anytime soon. Clearly that’s not in the country’s interests.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus infections draw closer to 650,000 as countries brace for long fight

The world has changed rather dramatically and it’s understandable that it has taken everyone some time to adjust to that. But it was apparent very quickly that the sorts of policy discussions, campaigning, fundraising, and debating that are essential parts of a leadership race seems totally out of place in our current circumstances.

The Conservatives need to be zeroed in on this crisis right now and everything else needs to take a back seat. There’s a fine balance to be struck between allowing the government to make large and swift decisions about how to respond to the outbreak while also scrutinizing those decisions and holding the government to account. The government’s backtracking on emergency spending and taxing powers for the finance minister is an example of this.

There will be a time and a place for this leadership race; we should all yearn for such circumstances. But that’s not our reality at the moment.

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