Conservative leadership candidates say they’ve sold memberships to hundreds of thousands of Canadians ahead of the Sept. 10 vote.
Pierre Poilievre’s campaign claims to have signed up more than 311,000 people before Friday’s deadline, which on its own is more than the total number of members who were eligible to vote in the last two leadership races.
Patrick Brown’s team says it sold more than 150,000 memberships, while Jean Charest’s campaign says it added “tens of thousands” of members.
But not all candidates are boasting publicly, despite a tweet on Saturday from Poilievre’s chief strategist Jenni Byrne urging all other campaigns to release their numbers. Scott Aitchison declined to talk about his team’s membership sales Monday as he was heading into the House of Commons. Leslyn Lewis and Roman Baber’s teams have not issued public statements.
The Canadian Press has not been able to verify the numbers released by the campaigns, and party president Rob Batherson said Conservative officials will not be commenting on specific numbers from any candidate.
He said it’s too soon to give even a ballpark figure, and that party staff are working long hours to verify the applications and ensure there’s no duplication.
Former Conservative strategist Tim Powers said there’s “always gamesmanship” among campaigns when it comes to numbers. He’s heard reports of 600,000 memberships being sold but said he’s waiting on the official figures.
“I suspect there’s a really good number, I don’t doubt that, meaning a much higher number than there was before,” said Powers, chairman of consulting firm Summa Strategies, in an interview Monday.
“Is it 600,000-plus? I don’t know— but nobody, including the party, seems to be pushing back.”
Batherson says the Tories will “set a record for the largest number of paid members of any political party in Canadian history,” eclipsing the record it set in 2020 when more than 269,000 people signed up.
“I think the reality is the person who wins this leadership race is likely going to become prime minister and so that is why there’s so much interest,” Batherson said.
But the contest has been bitter at times, with some candidates warning publicly that the party faithful are being divided. Powers said Poilievre, Charest and Brown have used “pointed wedge messaging” to get people engaged, and that appears to be working.
The fact that several hundred thousand people paid $15 each to sign up sends a message to other parties, he said, particularly the Liberals: “That probably wouldn’t be happening to the same degree if there was a satisfaction in the land with the state of public affairs.”
The final tally will be announced by July 29, once a preliminary list has been provided to the campaigns for review and potential challenges.
How many will actually participate is also unclear. The vote is being held by mail-in ballot, and Powers said historically about 60 per cent of members have cast a vote in past leadership races.
Batherson said all of the campaigns have a lot of work ahead to ensure everyone who signed up actually fills out a ballot and sends it in.