Though six months remain before Conservatives choose their next party leader, nearly half of the Conservative caucus has already backed one of the 12 contestants officially in the running. Two of them, Andrew Scheer and Erin O'Toole, have received the bulk of these endorsements.
But if endorsements are at all reflective of organizational strength and membership support, where these endorsements are coming from might be as important as the number each contestant receives.
- Kellie Leitch loses support of key N.L. backer
- Tory leadership contestants debate carbon tax, immigration
Of a caucus of 97 Conservative MPs, 37 have already backed a contestant for the party leadership (based on media reports and lists provided by the campaigns). Excluding the nine caucus members in the running and the four caucus officers who must remain neutral (the leader, deputy leader, House leader and whip), that means 47 MPs have yet to tip their hats.
With 18 MPs behind him, Scheer has the largest number of caucus endorsements (including Chris Warkentin, who has already expressed his support for the Saskatchewan MP but has not yet made a formal endorsement). He is followed closely by O'Toole, who has the backing of 12 MPs.
There is a steep drop-off after these two, however. Maxime Bernier and Kellie Leitch have three caucus supporters each while Michael Chong has one.
In addition, a number of senators, provincial legislators and former MPs have also announced their support for one candidate or another.
Chris Alexander, Steven Blaney, Dan Lindsay, Deepak Obhrai, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Saxton and Brad Trost have either not yet announced any caucus endorsements or did not respond to requests for a list of endorsements.
But do endorsements matter? Certainly there are many examples of leadership races when members have defied the wishes of the party's establishment. There are more examples where the tally of endorsements broadly matches the outcome.
That's because political endorsers have some weight to throw around within a party, be it clout, connections or organizational support. They also tend to have their finger on the pulse of the party — and want to make sure they are backing a winner.
Scheer and O'Toole the front-runners?
Based on the breakdown of endorsements so far, it appears that Scheer and O'Toole are the early front-runners, with Bernier and Leitch forming a second tier. Fundraising data, a revealing metric in most leadership races, does suggest that Bernier and Leitch stand out from some of their other rivals.
But the data for the current quarter of fundraising, which will reflect Scheer and O'Toole's impact on the race, will not be released until early next year. However, Scheer's campaign recently announced it had already paid the $100,000 leadership fee to the Conservative Party — suggesting that its fundraising has gotten off to a good start.
According to a recent Mainstreet/Postmedia poll, these four contestants, along with Chong, are registering between 11 and 19 per cent support among Conservative voters. But the poll did not survey just party members, so it can only be said that among the broader Conservative electorate these are the five contestants who are breaking through.
Endorsements point to regional support blocs
Though Scheer has more endorsements than O'Toole, the Ontario MP may have the advantage. O'Toole has support from a broader group of caucus members: three in both Ontario and Manitoba, and two apiece in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Scheer, on the other hand, has the support of 10 Alberta MPs and four from Saskatchewan (where he also has the backing of 20 members of the legislature), along with three MPs in British Columbia and one in Manitoba.
The Conservatives will likely have a disproportionate number of voting members in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but these two provinces will not carry a disproportionate weight when those votes are counted. According to the rules of the party, each riding carries equal weight — regardless of how many members are in it. It won't help Scheer to run up the numbers in Alberta, where there are 34 ridings, if O'Toole can capture even a third of the vote in Ontario, where there are 121, and supplement that with support in other regions.
Other regional blocs have yet to form where there are opportunities. Quebec will carry a lot of weight thanks to its 78 ridings, but only one caucus member from Quebec has backed a leadership contestant so far (Bernier).
Raitt represents an Ontario riding but is from Cape Breton. That might give her an edge in Atlantic Canadian ridings, where there are no Conservative MPs (a few Atlantic senators have backed some other contestants, however).
Saxton, so far the lone contestant from British Columbia, could have a claim to some support there — though another British Columbian, Rick Peterson, is expected to make his candidacy official within days.
And then there are some blocs that aren't regional in nature: Obhrai among new Canadians (immigration and diversity have been emphasized by his campaign); and Trost among social conservatives.
So while the contours of the race are still in the process of being formed, the outline is starting to become clear — and will become clearer still once the remaining 47 Conservative caucus members begin to give notice of their allegiances.
Conservative caucus endorsements
- Andrew Scheer (18): Ziad Aboultaif, John Barlow, Kelly Block, Jim Eglinski, Ted Falk, Garnett Genuis, Matt Jeneroux, Tom Lukiwski, Kelly McCauley, Gerry Ritz, Kevin Sorenson, Mark Strahl, Shannon Stubbs, Arnold Viersen, Cathay Wagantall, Mark Warawa, Chris Warkentin, Bob Zimmer.
- Erin O'Toole (12): James Bezan, John Brassard, Colin Carrie, Michael Cooper, Todd Doherty, Randy Hoback, Larry Maguire, Cathy McLeod, Blake Richards, Jamie Schmale, Robert Sopuck, Kevin Waugh.
- Maxime Bernier (3): Jacques Gourde, Tom Kmiec, Alex Nuttall.
- Kellie Leitch (3): Ben Lobb, Peter Van Loan, David Yurdiga.
- Michael Chong (1): Peter Kent.
- Chris Alexander, Steven Blaney, Dan Lindsay, Deepak Obhrai, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Saxton, Brad Trost (0).