As the race widens, it will put the party’s new entry requirements to the test

OTTAWA — The field of contestants for the Conservative leadership is growing with two more candidates announcing plans to enter the race on Wednesday.
One new candidate, Alberta-based businessman Rick Peterson, is a familiar face from the 2017 leadership race, when he finished in 12th place. He told the National Post he’s entering the race again to make sure there’s a Western voice advocating for the resource sector. (He lived in Vancouver during the last race, but moved to the Edmonton area shortly afterward.)
The other new candidate is rookie MP Derek Sloan, who was just elected in the Eastern Ontario riding of Hastings–Lennox and Addington. Sloan, a lawyer and father of three young children, made the announcement in a short video posted on Twitter.
As the race widens, it will put the party’s new entry requirements to the test. The rules were designed so that a wide cross-section of candidates can get in initially, but only those who are able to build momentum and develop a strong organization will qualify for the debate stage and final ballot.
Party officials would prefer not to have a repeat from 2017, when almost every debate had well over a dozen participants and 14 names were on the final ballot. So far in this race, at least seven candidates have announced or are expected to shortly.
“We initially were all going to fall in and support Rona Ambrose, but haven’t seen any movement on her part,” Peterson said, referring to his supporters. “It’s really important in this race that we have a voice from the West.” He plans to launch his campaign at an event next week.
Candidate Rick Peterson speaks at a Conservative party leadership candidate forum at the Deerfoot Inn and Casino in Calgary, Alta. on Wednesday March 1, 2017.Jim Wells/Postmedia
“We looked at our support last time and went into this eyes wide open, knowing that as an outsider it’s going to be a tough row to hoe,” Peterson said. But he said he’s bilingual and hopes to pick up support from all over the country. “We’ve got good strength in Western Canada and in Quebec,” he said.
For his part, Sloan said, “We are going to go big, bold, and we are not going to be ashamed to be conservative.” In a statement, Sloan said he feels the party “focuses strictly on economic issues, which are very valid, but we need to go above and beyond.” He promised to release full policy proposals soon.
To enter the race, candidates need to fill out a questionnaire, pay a fee of $25,000, and collect 1,000 signatures from party members in least 30 ridings across seven provinces. The deadline for entering is Feb. 27.
But the big change this year is the escalating deadlines that quickly approach. To qualify for official debates and get access to the party’s membership list, candidates need to come up with a further $125,000 and 1,000 signatures. To get onto the final ballot, candidates need to pay a further $150,000 by March 25, along with another 1,000 names.
In total candidates have to raise $300,000 to stay in the race, compared to $100,000 in 2017.
“It’s a process designed to test the organizational abilities of our next leader,” said Dan Nowlan, co-chair of the organizing committee, when the rules were announced. “It’s not only your ability to fundraise, but more importantly your ability to inspire Canadians to join our party, and to do so under tight timelines similar to the pressures of an election.”
“It’s tough,” said Peterson when asked about the higher thresholds this year. “It’s doable, but it is going to be tough. Not being an MP, I don’t have the network across Canada that the other candidates likely will. But I have a different network, you know, in the private sector and among friends and colleagues.”
He said the lesson he learned from the 2017 race was to push hard on bold policy ideas — and if the field is smaller this year, that should make it easier to do.
“People voting in a leadership deeply listen and care for and consider ideas that you’re bringing forth,” he said. “It’s going to be easier to stand out in a race with four or five or six candidates.”
Five candidates have now publicly announced their plan to enter. Along with Peterson and Sloan, there is Richard Decarie, a social conservative from Quebec; Marilyn Gladu, a two-term MP from southwestern Ontario; and Peter MacKay, who has a very high profile as a former party leader and cabinet minister. Two more MPs, Pierre Poilievre and Erin O’Toole, have teams in place and are expected to announce their campaigns soon.
The leadership results will be announced in Toronto on June 27.
Email: bplatt@postmedia.com | Twitter: btaplatt