What was billed as a “battle for the soul of the Conservative Party” is looking increasingly like a rout.
Party faithful are set to gather in Ottawa Saturday to hear from the next Conservative leader – the party’s fourth in seven years. Heading into the leadership contest, Pierre Poilievre was viewed as the prohibitive front-runner.
Over the course of the seven-month campaign, Poilievre appears to have solidified that position.
“Rather than a battle for the soul of the party, I think (the contest) was just a reassertion of the decision that had been made in 2002 and 2003 … (that) the way to beat the Liberal Party would be a right that was a bit more emphatic,” said Darrell Bricker, the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.
“Basically, what’s happening in Canadian politics is that we’ve created a more articulated left and a more articulated right.”
Ipsos polling for Global News suggests that, among Conservative voters, Poilievre’s support grew from 50 per cent in April to 57 per cent in September.
Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and Progressive Conservative leader viewed as Poilievre’s chief rival in the contest, had just 27 per cent support among Conservative voters in April. While Ipsos polling suggests Charest had narrowed the gap with Poilievre in July, with 45 per cent support, the September poll put him at 38 per cent.
Charest maintains that he still sees a path to victory, and it’s important to note that “Conservative voters” are not necessarily card-carrying party members eligible to cast a vote in the leadership.
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But Bricker said his polling suggests a measure of “bandwagon hopping” moving Conservatives into Poilievre’s camp.
“We’ve seen a considerable amount of movement among Tory partisans toward Poilievre. So they’re kind of preparing for the inevitable,” Bricker said.
“But among Canadians in general … just over 40 per cent had no impression of Poilievre at all.
“This has really been a family fight. The Canadian electorate has not been paying attention.”
The 2022 race lacked much of the drama and big moments of the 2017 leadership – such as when front-runner and television personality Kevin O’Leary surprisingly dropped out of the race, or Andrew Scheer’s climb through a crowded field to upset Maxime Bernier on the final ballot.
It also lacked some of the intriguing dynamics of the 2020 race, like Erin O’Toole’s makeover into a red-meat conservative, the stumbles of Peter MacKay’s campaign, or Leslyn Lewis’s surprisingly strong outsider bid.
The biggest drama came in July, when the party disqualified former MP and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown over alleged violations of the Canada Elections Act. But in a June interview with Global News, Brown had already openly mused about a return to city politics “if Pierre was going to win.”
Whoever the next leader is, they will inherit a party with 678,702 paying members – an unprecedented number in modern Canadian politics – and an extensive database of grassroots members to campaign with in the next federal election.
While the party’s membership numbers typically sag slightly after a leadership race, the party said Thursday that it had received 437,854 total ballots by Monday’s deadline. That suggests a decent level of engagement from the membership – including the more than 300,000 Poilievre’s campaign claims to have signed up.
One question for the incoming leader is who, exactly, makes up the party’s new and expanded base – and what it will take to keep all of them motivated, even if their preferred candidate doesn’t take the helm.
Another question is how much time the new leader will have before the Liberals spring another general election on the country. While the NDP’s deal to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals extends to 2025, the Conservatives have no guarantee this minority Parliament will last that long.
But those are questions for Sunday morning.
The new leader is scheduled to be named on Saturday evening between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at an event at Ottawa’s Shaw Centre.