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Leadership watch

Lisa Raitt comes out swinging after a slow start to the Conservative Party leadership race

Leadership watch

Kellie Leitch picks up another anti-immigrant group endorsement that she probably doesn't want

Leadership watch

Kevin O'Leary's non-campaign campaign heats up

Leadership watch: O’Leary’s demurs, Leitch alt-right bump, Singh’s charm offensive

Canada has only two permanent political leaders on the national scene — the prime minister, and the leader of the Green Party — so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the country is going through some kind of political upheaval.

Both the second-place Conservative Party and third-place New Democratic Party are going through an arduous hiring process for their next prime-minister-to-be, and they’re a mess for different reasons.

The Conservatives have 13 pretenders to the throne duking it out for the top job, with one possible game-changer waiting in the wings to enter the race at any time. That huddled mass features three men who were defeated in the last election, one who has never held elected office, and one man who wants to put gay marriage back on the table.

The race to lead the left wing NDP, which once had an actual shot of forming government, has not a single declared candidate.

“Build a war chest”

Kevin O’Leary plays an unabashed megalomaniac on TV and, according to a source close to the campaign, the odds are in favour of him jumping into the race to lead the Conservative Party.

And, assuming he does, he would almost immediately become the odds-on favorite to win.

The businessman, with a spotty record but lots of name recognition, has toyed with his possible contenders for weeks, prognosticating from the margins of the race.

But what’s been surprising about O’Leary’s foray into the world of politics thus far is how successful he’s been.

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

His exploratory committee is not short on big names: There’s Mike Coates, who spent his career at the head of lobbying giant Hill & Knowlton; Marjory LeBreton, retired senator and Harper political apparatchik; former Ontario Premier Mike Harris; former Alberta minister Ken Hughes; current Member of Parliament Guy Lauzon; former Harper spokesperson Sara MacIntyre; amongst others.

Asked whether O’Leary is already sniffing out donations, a spokesperson for his shadow campaign told VICE News that: “The committee includes business leaders who are some of the country’s top philanthropic fundraisers and part of the advice on a path to victory will be to explore Kevin’s ability to quickly build a war chest.”

O’Leary is obviously making more than a few people skittish.

Lisa Raitt — who would, if this were a normal race, be considered a de facto frontrunner — held a press conference to announce that she would be launching StopKevinOLeary.com.

Maxime Bernier, who has pulled ahead with an aggressive fundraising push, sent out an email on Thursday inviting O’Leary into the race, digging: “But if Kevin O’Leary wants to have the slightest chance at beating me, he needs to get in now.”

Andrew Scheer, who leads in caucus support, told O’Leary to “fish or cut bait” and enter the race before the next debate in Quebec City, to be held exclusively in French — a language that O’Leary doesn’t speak.

Former immigration minister and defeated member of Parliament Chris Alexander, whose quixotic bid for leader is confusing many within his own party, promised that he’d make O’Leary his finance minister in an extremely unlikely scenario where he becomes prime minister.

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

“Open border, globalist agenda…”

Arch-right dark horse contender Kellie Leitch has become a media darling for her campaign tactic of percolating anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment in a race that was supposed to be a sleepy contest between well-liked establishment Conservatives.

Now, Leitch is taking her show on the road.

The doctor (Leitch is a doctor) appeared on Fox Business on Wednesday, repeating the same talking points she deploys here at home, blaming the left-wing media elites and the political establishment for the negative push-back against her plan to interrogate would-be immigrants and refugees.

She bashed the “left-wing media” for “pushing their open border, globalist agenda to put a feather in their own caps.”

Leitch has been critical of how the media has covered her plan to do face-to-face interviews and apply values tests to all incoming refugees and immigrants, while simultaneously refusing to answer questions or provide details about that plan.

She also used the forum to bash Canada’s universal healthcare coverage.

While her campaign seems pretty confident that following Donald Trump’s dance card will deliver an edge in the race, there’s no clear sign it’s working. She was, by a long shot, the first candidate out of the gate. Even still, she is falling behind Bernier in the fundraising race, and has only attracted three endorsements from within her own caucus.

Unofficial numbers from Scheer suggest that he’s raised nearly as much as both Leitch and Bernier in just a matter of months.

Graph by Ralph Damman

Leitch is cornering one market, however: The anti-immigrant crowd.

Building on her endorsement from the far-right Council of European Canadians — albeit, one she repudiated — the leadership contestant is now receiving support from the Cultural Action Party, who has backed Leitch because they believe she’ll push “traditional Canadian identity and immigration policies,” the group’s founder told PressProgress.

Hey, pay attention to me

Illustration by Ethan Tennier-Stuart

Between the bombast of O’Leary and Leitch and the ill-fated campaigns of the soon-to-be also-rans are the credible contenders who have found it nearly impossible to get traction in the race.

Lisa Raitt, who has run an earnest and quiet campaign thus far, came out firing at Leitch and O’Leary on Wednesday and accused the two of being equal halves of the Trump equation: Incompetent celebrity and xenophobic rabblerouser. A few hours later, Steven Blaney, one-time public safety minister, took the opposite tract and announced a plan to cut down on refugee and immigrant intake to improve integration.

The odd nature of the race has meant that even Brad Trost, who has been an MP for over a decade, has struggled to receive coverage — and he’s campaigned on banning gay marriage and denying the link between climate change and human activity.

When the financial reports from the last few months of 2016 come out in the coming weeks, we’ll see a clearer picture of exactly who is gaining momentum and who is falling behind.

“Did I skate it well?”

As the aberrant Conservative race steams ahead, the NDP race is struggling to get started.

As it stands, long-time MPs Peter Julian and Charlie Angus — from British Columbia and Northern Ontario, respectively — are set to jump into the race amid little fanfare.

While Julian is a safe and credible choice for the ecologist and labour-affiliated flank of the party, Angus has earned his chops by championing Indigenous and rural issues. Neither are household names, and neither prospective candidacy has generated too much buzz, as party members and organizers wait to see who else might emerge.

“I’m definitely keeping the doors open.”

That somebody could be Jagmeet Singh, the impressive and popular provincial politician who has been aggressively courted by NDP stalwarts looking for a fresh-faced progressive who can appeal to youth and new Canadian communities in a way that cuts through traditional Ottawa politics — not unlike Trudeau’s own style.

Singh can either choose to jump to the federal level and lead the shrunken and demoralized national party against a popular incumbent for 2019, or stick with his relatively-popular provincial party — of which he is deputy leader — as they run against a deeply unpopular premier and a Progressive Conservative leader who has had trouble marshalling his own forces.

In agreeing to a profile in the Huffington Post, Singh himself allowed the speculation to continue unabated, telling the outlet: “I’m definitely keeping the doors open, listening to what people have to say. I’m really honoured by my position, like I’m really excited with what I’m doing provincially as well, so I will definitely continue to listen to what people have to say.”

After reciting that obviously-prepared talking point, Singh told the journalist: “How’s that? Did I skate it well, or what?”


Cover: Ethan Tennier-Stuart

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