O'Toole, Rempel Garner, MacKay: Who should lead the Conservative Party?

Is Peter MacKay’s French good enough for a Quebec debate? Will Richard Décarie’s statements that being gay is a choice help or hinder? Do Erin O'Toole’s public statements really allow him to say MacKay is too liberal?

What qualities would lead to success in the next election?

Erin O'Toole, left, and Peter MacKay have announced their intention to run for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. Michelle Rempel Garner is considering joining the race. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press, Mike Symington/CBC, Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Who should replace Andrew Scheer as the next leader of the federal Conservative Party? Among conservative circles, there are lots of opinions.

Is Peter MacKay's French good enough for a Quebec debate? Will Richard Décarie's statements that being gay is a choice help or hinder? Can Erin O'Toole really position himself as more true blue than MacKay? Will Michelle Rempel Garner join the race? Should Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre have remained in the running?

Our senior reporter covering politics and Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Catherine Cullen, and Edmonton political scientist John Soroski weigh in, along with points of view from people around Alberta.

"There was a bit of an earthquake last week, one day after another, hearing all these high profile names saying they were not running,  Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose, Pierre Poilievre. It really shook up a lot of conservatives who were expecting a more competitive race," Cullen told Alberta@Noon.

Who is a maybe? 

Michelle Rempel Garner is seriously thinking about it, Cullen said.

Former leadership candidate Michael Chong, who had a lot of ideas around climate change and was in favour of a carbon tax, is thinking about it as well.

Candice Bergen told the National Post she's considering a run.

Is Peter MacKay's French good enough?

"I think his French, people who know would say, it's not very good," Soroski said.

"But the question is, is that ultimately going to be a deterrent to people voting for him? I think not within the Conservative Party but potentially when he's in a French language debate that might be a huge deterrent  in Quebec."

Caller Kleber Ofume from Edmonton said he's looking for a leader that unites the country.

"We need an innovative thinker, one that has the courage and is not motivated by his or her political base. A leader that can unite Canadians and not divide us," Ofume said.

Other callers weigh in

Calgary's Steve Aspen says he's looking for a leader that understands institutional history.

"How did we get here and what are the fundamental changes that need to be," Aspen said.

"You can totally ignore Alberta and Saskatchewan and still win."

He says the federal government is larger than he feels it should be, and that's why the provinces suffer.

Get serious about climate change

Soroski says the leader of the party — if they are serious about winning an election — will have to move beyond some of the social conservative stumbles Andrew Scheer had.

"I think you are seeing both MacKay and O'Toole talking in ways that indicate they are anxious to move beyond on that," Soroski said. 

A successful party vying for national leadership in Canada has to get serious about a response to climate change, he added, a response they can defend to large elements of the population.

Does O'Toole have enough policy differences to overcome the name recognition gap with MacKay?

Comes down to branding, rhetoric and bicep-flexing

O'Toole is trying to position himself as being more of a true blue conservative than MacKay, Soroski said.

"But I don't really see it in terms of policy," he said.

"It comes more down to branding, rhetoric and bicep-flexing."

UFC rules

MacKay told a conservative newspaper columnist he is youthful. "I'm a guy who likes to stay active. [Justin Trudeau] does yoga, I play hockey," MacKay said.

He doubled down to another opinion-writer Monday. "I'd rather fight him UFC rules. Or on the ice — no headgear, no gloves."

Moira Game from Calgary is less dazzled with machismo and more focused on a good slate of candidates with diverse ideas. She wonders if the criteria for entering the leadership race might be a barrier for more diverse candidates.

They have to gather 3,000 signatures and raise $300,000 by March 25.

"It favours people who have an existing political machine behind them that can do fundraising on a dime," Game said.

"If you look at women's earning power, they don't have the same buying power with their income as do men, so they are disadvantaged right from the get-go. It's just sad," Game added.

Entry barriers

Soroski agrees.

"I think $300,000 seems like a huge barrier, a real negative. It could affect second-tier candidates, like Michael Chong," he said, but it shows the party doesn't want a huge list of candidates to choose from with all kinds of outliers like Kellie Leitch.

Leitch proposed a barbaric cultural practices tip line during the last federal election, before changing her mind.

Looking for a good red Tory

Up in Edmonton, David Laughton says he has to look way back to find a leader that he likes.

"The last decent leader the conservatives had was Robert Borden," Laughton said.

"I'd be looking for a good red Tory who took our sovereignty seriously, and what we need to do to preserve the country … We need to have internal coherence and we need to watch out for what is happening with the great powers, including China," he said.

"I don't see anyone with a strategic version that John A. Macdonald had, that helped create the country or Robert Borden had when he kept it going during the First World War."

Should Rempel Garner run?

Phil Passmore from Peace River has a preferred next leader for the Conservative Party.

"I would like to see Michelle Rempel Garner get in the race. There's a huge dichotomy in thinking between Eastern and Western Canada," Passmore said.

"There's a whole bunch of people who like the thinking Andrew Scheer has. So it's going to take a real special individual who can tie all those things together."

If not, Passmore said, "Maxime Bernier is going to be the alternative for those people who many would call on the far right, will choose to vote for."

With files from Alberta@Noon and Catherine Cullen


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