Leadership Watch: O’Leary faces questions about campaign finances and the NDP fills out its field
The field of candidates vying to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has grown in the last few weeks, with a slew of new personalities elbowing their way into the crowd — and more to come.
For the Conservatives, the combative debate over whether the party ought to veer right or left continues to dominate headlines, and now it appears that it’s apparent frontrunner may have broken campaign finance rules.
Meanwhile, the third-place NDP, which turfed Thomas Mulcair over his objections last April, and fourth-place Bloc Quebecois, which lost long-time leader Gilles Duceppe after his 2015 defeat, are starting to see their own battles take shape.
O’Leary has plane problems
Kevin O’Leary, the apparent frontrunner in the Conservative Party leadership race, has dropped out of the party’s penultimate debate — which also happens to be the final forum for the candidates to test their French-language skills — citing the frustrating format of the 14-person stage, which leaves little time to actually debate.
For skipping the debate, O’Leary is sacrificing $10,000 from the $50,000 deposit he registered with the party as a penalty.
That might not be his only headache, however.
Speaking to the Globe & Mail, O’Leary remarked “Yeah, I do use private planes as I do in business, but I can’t charge that to the campaign. I can only charge the price of a ticket. Sometimes I have to be in four cities at once. Why wouldn’t I use a private plane?”
The problem is that may run afoul of Canadian election law.
For leadership contests, candidates can fly or drive around the country — but they must bill those expenses to the campaign and get reimbursed. Otherwise, their travel is considered a non-monetary contribution, and therefore subject to the donation cap ($1,525).
“The contestant might incur travel and living expenses during the contest period as an incidence of the campaign. If he or she travels to meet supporters, the travel and lodging expenses incurred during the trips are personal expenses of the contestant,” reads an Elections Canada handbook prepared for candidates.
These rules are in place explicitly to prevent wealthy candidates or benefactors from buying a race. It’s not clear that taking an expense, like flying on a private jet, and claiming a lesser expense, like flying commercial, would pass the test.
VICE News reached out to O’Leary’s campaign, but has not received a response.
Meanwhile, O’Leary’s competitors are playing strategically.
Self-styled libertarian Maxime Bernier has tried to appeal to a social conservative base by coming out to admonish Bill C-16, which would afford human rights protections to transgender people. He’s also been decrying M-103, a motion to condemn Islamophobia. Both moves would also appeal to two competitors in the race, Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost, who could be crucial sources of support as the race winds down.
Kellie Leitch, meanwhile, has tried to soften her image with a questionably-directed Facebook video talking up her Donald Trump-inspired campaign pledge to beef up interrogations for immigrants, refugees, and visitors to Canada.
Voting for the leader is done by ranked ballot, which means that if a Conservative’s preferred candidate is eliminated, their vote will revert to their second and subsequent choices. Which is all to say, strategy matters.
Three white men
For a party that advocates diversity, and pushes gender parity within its party leadership, the race to succeed Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party is awfully white and male.
In quick succession through February, would-be leaders of the centre-left party threw their hats in the ring — Peter Julian, first; Charlie Angus, second; and Guy Caron, third.
Julian, who has represented his suburban British Columbia seat for more than a decade, is considered on the left flank of the party but there’s been little optimism in the party for his candidacy. His campaign website has a handful of “discussion topics,” but no policy as of yet.
Angus, Member of Parliament for the northern Ontario riding of Timmins—James Bay, has been a tenacious advocate for Indigenous populations, and is considered more of an old-school New Democrat. Angus, who sang in 80’s punk band Grievous Angels, launched his campaign at the Horseshoe Tavern, an iconic rock venue in Toronto.
Caron is running on his credentials as an economist — announcing that, as leader, he would stump on a promise of implementing an universal basic income. He has pledged to use government funds to bring every individual or family above the low-income cutoff, which ranges from $24,600 for a single person to $65,101 for a seven-person family.
There are two more candidates waiting to round out the field.
Niki Ashton, who represents the northern Manitoba community of Churchill, ran unsuccessfully in the party’s 2012 leadership race that selected Mulcair, but is being touted as a possible contender this time around, as the party grapples with its return to third-place status and seeks to challenge Trudeau from the left.
Ashton says she will be making an announcement, likely that she’ll be running, sometime “soon.”
But it’s Jagmeet Singh, an MPP for the Ontario NDP, that is garnering the most buzz.
The stylish Sikh, who has garnered fawning reviews for his dapper three-piece suits, is seen by many within the party as the perfect candidate to take on a prime minister that has built a political identity around welcoming refugees, fighting for the middle class, and combatting climate change.
Party insiders and those who are familiar with his thinking say the deputy Ontario leader is weighing his political future — whether he’d have a better shot unseating Trudeau, or replacing Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and having a go at becoming premier of Ontario.
A report that Singh would jump into the race this Wednesday is untrue, a source close to Singh told VICE News.
The two candidates have plenty of time to make up their minds. Debates don’t begin until mid-March, and the deadline to register as a candidate does not come until July.
The one requirement for contenders will be French. All the touted candidates have at least working french, with Caron, Julian, and Singh entirely fluent.
The other opposition
As Ottawa’s two main opposition parties undergo internal political battles, little attention is being paid to the fourth-place party in Parliament — the Bloc Quebecois.
The race is currently shaping up to be more of a coronation than a real competition, with Martine Ouellet, currently a member of Quebec’s National Assembly and who was, until quite recently, a member of the Parti Quebecois, as the main contender. She resigned from her party upon launching her bid to lead the Bloc, and now sits as an independent.
Ouellet is floating the idea that she could be leader of the federal Bloc while still sitting in the Quebec provincial legislature. She would, ostensibly, collect two salaries.
“There’s no incompatibility at all,” she said earlier this month, according to the Journal de Montreal. “I will be a Member of Parliament at the same time that I’ll be in the National Assembly, so long as there isn’t an election.”
Duceppe, who has led the Bloc for the majority of its existence, is sour on the idea.
“She’s going to hurt the movement by trying to be in two places at the same time,” he said, according to the Journal.
The Bloc will select its leader on April 22 and thus far, Ouellet’s only competition is a failed 2015 candidate for the sovereigntist party.
Cover: Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart