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Jean Charest says he signed up enough Conservative members to win

Click to play video: 'Conservative leadership debate: Candidates spar over previous track records on abortion, taxes' Conservative leadership debate: Candidates spar over previous track records on abortion, taxes
In a fiery exchange during Wednesday's Conservative Party leadership debate in Edmonton, candidates Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest sparred over each other's previous political track records. Charest grilled Poilievre on his abortion stance, to which he responded he’s pro-choice, and Poilievre probed Charest about his stances on abortion and taxes – May 11, 2022

Jean Charest’s campaign said it has signed up enough new and lapsed members to secure victory in the Sept. 10 Conservative leadership vote.

They just won’t say how many members that is.

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Charest’s campaign sent out a press release Friday afternoon — the last day Conservative leadership campaigns had to sign up members eligible to vote in the race — saying the former Quebec premier “has the points he needs to win” the race.

“This is far from the coronation many were expecting at the onset of this race,” said Mike Coates, Charest’s campaign co-chair, referring to perceived frontrunner Pierre Poilievre.

“It is now confirmed that there will be no winner on the first ballot,” in the party’s ranked-ballot leadership election, Coates added.

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Asked for clarification on their membership sales, Charest spokesperson Michelle Coates-Mather said “it’s not about the membership sales number.”

“It’s about the efficiency of support and making inroads into new ridings to maximize points, which we have,” Coates-Mather said.

A spokesperson for Poilievre’s campaign did not return a request for comment Friday, but a source close to the campaign said it expects to release its own membership numbers Friday or Saturday.

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While much of the media attention to the race has focused on debates and personal attacks between the leadership candidates, the real battle has taken place behind the scenes, with campaigns working frantically to sign up eligible voters to support their bid for the party’s top job.

The leadership campaigns and Conservative party officials believe that at least 400,000 Canadians will be signed up before the membership cutoff Friday — and perhaps as many as 500,000.

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In a statement to Global News, party president Rob Batherson said it “won’t be in a position to confirm an accurate number until the verification process and candidate challenge period is complete.”

That won’t stop the leadership campaigns from spinning their numbers, however.

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In a statement Friday, the campaign for Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown claimed to have sold “a whopping” 150,000 memberships.

“I’m sure people — especially the Liberal media — will be surprised when they learn how many Conservative party memberships our campaign has sold,” Brown said in a statement sent to the media.

It’s impossible to independently verify the Brown campaign’s claim, and leadership campaigns routinely accuse their rivals of juicing their numbers to give the appearance of momentum.

But it appears clear that the Conservative party is heading to record membership numbers before the upcoming leadership vote.

Now that the campaign has reached the membership cut-off date, the various leadership camps will turn their attention to persuading the party’s rank-and-file that each has the best candidate to return the Conservatives to power. The final phase of the campaign, in July and August, will be focused on getting out the vote.

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But a senior Conservative source, who agreed to speak to Global News on the condition they not be named, was concerned that the bitter and nasty leadership campaign means the party is “irrevocably broken.”

Read more: Conservatives could hit 500k members as leadership campaigns scramble for supporters

A second senior source and veteran of multiple leadership campaigns agreed that it’s not “an unrealistic risk” that the next leader will not be able to unify the party caucus — a mishmash of Prairie populists, Ontario progressive conservatives, and Atlantic Canadian Red Tories — after a fractious leadership tilt.

A source close to the Poilievre campaign, which has amassed significant support from current MPs and senators, dismissed those concerns.

The next Conservative leader will be announced on Sept. 10.

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