Poilievre can be a ‘strong’ leader but uniting Tories is a challenge: former minister

Click to play video: 'Poilievre will ‘get more Conservatives off the bench and into the game’:  Baird'
Poilievre will ‘get more Conservatives off the bench and into the game’: Baird
WATCH: Poilievre will ‘get more Conservatives off the bench and into the game,’ John Baird says – Feb 6, 2022

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre’s announcement Saturday to run for the party’s leadership and become Canada’s next prime minister is being widely endorsed by fellow Tory members of Parliament.

Poilievre, the Tories’ finance critic, is the first candidate to launch his bid for the Conservative Party of Canada’s top spot after MPs forced Erin O’Toole out of the position this past week.

Read more: The Conservative leadership race has already started

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Among those who pledged their support to the Ottawa-area MP is John Baird, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson Sunday, Baird said Poilievre has the qualities to be a “very strong leader,” but unifying a fractured Conservative Party will be a challenge.

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“He’s someone who I think will galvanize Conservatives, not just in the parliamentary caucus, but across the country and galvanize Canadians,” said Baird, who served as the minister of foreign affairs from 2011 to 2015 in then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

Click to play video: 'Pierre Poilievre enters Conservative leadership race, says he’s ‘running for prime minister’'
Pierre Poilievre enters Conservative leadership race, says he’s ‘running for prime minister’

In a three-minute video released on social media Saturday evening, Poilievre didn’t mention the Conservative Party by name or the leadership contest, saying only that he wants the job as prime minister.

The race to replace O’Toole, who was ousted by Conservative MPs in a vote on Wednesday, is well underway with thousands of new memberships sold, a source told Global News on Friday.

Read more: O’Toole calls for ‘balance’ as Conservative MPs plunge party into leadership race

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Anger against O’Toole’s leadership had been simmering for months, sparked by September’s disappointing election results.

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The Conservatives lost ground in crucial regions of the country compared with 2019’s election loss.

Baird said the Conservative Party needs to get more Tories “off the bench” and back “into the game.”

“We lost 550,000 votes in the last election. We want those people back,” he added.

Click to play video: 'Conservatives enter third leadership race in 6 years'
Conservatives enter third leadership race in 6 years

Baird said the Conservative Party needs someone with strong leadership skills who can offer some hope that there is opportunity in the future.

“I think what you’re going to see is Pierre present himself as an incredibly popular leader of the Conservative Party and then present himself as a viable candidate to be prime minister and to be a successful prime minister when elected.”

Manitoba MP Candice Bergen is currently serving as the interim Conservative leader until a new permanent leader is chosen by the party members.

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— with files from The Canadian Press.

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