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Conservative leadership race: Over half of members have voted a week before deadline

Click to play video: 'Pierre Poilievre holds rally and speaks to supporters at Douro Community Centre in Peterborough County'
Pierre Poilievre holds rally and speaks to supporters at Douro Community Centre in Peterborough County
Hundreds of supporters were on hand to see Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre in Douro Friday evening. Polls are showing he is the front runner in the race to lead the federal Conservatives. Katrina Squazzin has more – Aug 13, 2022

More than half of Conservative party members have voted for its next leader, leaving one week for the remaining members to do the same.

As of Tuesday, the party says over 350,000 mail-in ballots have been returned out of the 678,000 they sent to people who can vote in the contest.

That means voter turnout is currently sitting at around 52 per cent so far. In the party’s 2020 leadership contest, which was won by Ontario MP Erin O’Toole, around 65 per cent of members voted.

Leadership candidates and their teams have spent the last few weeks of this race with their heads down, poring over the membership list, working to ensure their supporters have cast a vote — and trying to reach those who haven’t.

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Front-runner Pierre Poilievre, who has hosted nearly 80 large rallies across the country throughout the campaign, held his final meet-and-greet Monday in Vancouver. His team says more than 1,000 people attended.

His get-out-the-vote efforts have been aided by many of the 62 members of Parliament backing him, many of whom have spent latter part of the summer hosting events where supporters can cast their mail-in ballots in person.

Saskatchewan MP Corey Tochor, who is co-chairing Poilievre’s campaign in that province along with former leader Andrew Scheer, said he’s seen two to three times as many people drop by those events as compared to leadership races in the past.

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“The excitement level is through the roof.”

Besides collecting ballots to send to Ottawa, he said the events also serve as a chance to hear from the party’s base.

“It’s really rewarding to meet the grassroots, either new members or existing members, that are like, tears in their eyes thinking about the possibility of change.”

Click to play video: 'Daniel Westlake breaks down the Conservative leadership race'
Daniel Westlake breaks down the Conservative leadership race

The events also provide supporters a place to photocopy a piece of identification, which must be sent along with the ballot to confirm its validity. That requirement can be logistical hurdle.

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Many in the party expect Poilievre to win, and potentially win big, after his campaign reported selling more than 300,000 memberships. He also came into the race extremely popular with the party’s existing base.

His campaign has said many of the memberships were bought by people who have never belonged to a political party _ which means the voting process for them is also new.

Despite the momentum behind Poilievre, Jean Charest’s campaign said they believe the former Quebec premier does have the points needed to win a narrow victory.

Candidates are assigned points based on what share of the vote they get in each of their ridings. The winner needs to get more than 50 per cent of the available points.

For the final week of getting out the vote, Charest’s campaign is focusing resources in Ontario and British Columbia, what it regards as two of the race’s battlegrounds. It’s counting on a strong showing in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

He also hopes to pick up support that would have otherwise gone to Patrick Brown, who was disqualified from the race last month over an allegation he violated the country’s election law.

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Brown focused on bringing in supporters from immigrant and racialized communities. Some in the party believe those supporters will choose not to vote now that he is not a candidate.

But after his ousting, Charest reached out to Brown’s organizers. Mukarram Ali Zaidi of Calgary said he was one of them.

“Whatever Patrick Brown was doing, he agreed that he would continue that work,” he said in a recent interview, adding that includes fighting Quebec’s controversial Bill 21.

“When politicians want your support and vote, they say everything that you want.”

Zaidi, who is Muslim, said he also asked Charest to commit to investigating Brown’s removal from the race, which he said shocked many of Brown’s supporters.

Charest campaign spokesperson Michelle Coates Mather confirmed in a statement that he is committed to opening an investigation.

The next Conservative leader will be announced at a convention in Ottawa on Sept. 10.

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