Newly minted Conservatives hope to help stop Leitch, O'Leary
'Ousting Leitch and O'Leary is the bait getting people interested in the Conservative leadership race'
It was the desire to oppose candidates — not support one — that prompted Kelly Maher to join a political party for the first time in her life.
The Halifax resident said she recently joined the Conservative Party of Canada because she wanted to try to stop two leadership candidates in particular from winning the race in May. Fourteen people are vying to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper as party leader.
"If [Kellie] Leitch and [Kevin] O'Leary are some of the front-runners then I would want to do what I can to try to prevent them from eventually running for prime minister," said Maher.
She's part of a group of people joining the party at least in part because they oppose Leitch and O'Leary.
Philip Wouda revoked his Green party membership and registered as a Conservative party member on March 5.
"Ousting Leitch and O'Leary is the bait getting people interested in the Conservative leadership race beyond all the bad memes," said the resident of Hull, Que.
"And I think it's becoming a lot more than just that — people are discovering an opportunity to reorient the Conservative party into a more appealing option."
Open votes fuel movement
Wouda has identified Michael Chong as a candidate he can support. However, not all new members intend to devote themselves to the party.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said he thinks it's entirely fair for people to join any party they want for any reason, but he said parties also don't really have a way to prove how many are involved simply to oppose a candidate.
"There's just no way for the Conservatives or any other party to really figure out whether someone who's joining the Conservatives during a leadership race is actually really just a supporter of another party and trying to undermine what the Conservatives may want to do in terms of their core membership."
The movement is fuelled at least in part, he said, by parties shifting away from a delegate-based voting system in favour of open votes that give a party members a ballot.
Michael Diamond, a spokesperson for Leitch's campaign, said his team has known about this movement for months.
"There's a lot of people who are quite braggadocios on the fact that they're not conservative and have been active in other parties, who are joining to stop Kellie Leitch," he said.
"We think it's telling of who the other parties are scared of running against in 2019."
Kenneth McGrath of Ottawa is part of one such movement. He started a Facebook group last November called "Stop Kellie Leitch."
"It was a reaction to what was going on in [America]," he said. "I mean there was a lot of surprise at how that election turned out and the rhetoric that was coming from Kellie Leitch's campaign."
March 28 deadline to join
McGrath hasn't personally joined the party, but he said many group members have. It's a non-partisan group, with no goal other than stopping Leitch from winning the leadership, said McGrath.
"We don't think she's a responsible candidate," he said.
"We're not going to just sit back and wait for politicians to deal with Kellie Leitch. We have to speak up and say, 'You guys can do better than this.'"
The deadline to join the party and be eligible to vote is March 28. Party officials said they'll have a better idea then just how many new members have signed up.
Cory Hann of the Conservative Party of Canada said they welcome all new members, as long as they follow party rules.
"You're the minimum age of 14, you've personally paid out of your own funds the membership fee, you don't belong to another political party and you actively support the 22 principles that guide the Conservative Party of Canada," he said in an email.