Tory leadership race down to four candidates

The fifth-place candidate in the Tory leadership race quits on Friday night throwing his support to Jim Prentice

The front-runner in the race to lead the federal Conservatives gave 2,200 delegates a glimpse of how he'd perform in Ottawa by attacking the governing Liberals and singling out Paul Martin, during a critical speech on the eve of the election.

Nova Scotia MP, Peter MacKay, supported by former Ontario premier, Bill Davis and about 42 per cent of the delegates, used his limited speaking time to criticize the Liberal record in Ottawa and ask the crowd to make a leap of faith. 

"My vision is a country proud of its reputation, proud of its government and proud of its contribution to the world," said MacKay, 37, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Friday night.

He accused the Liberals of running a "Triple P" government, comprised of patronage, privilege and "power at all costs."

MacKay, David Orchard, Jim Prentice and Scott Brison are seeking to succeed Joe Clark as the party's 23rd leader on Saturday.

Friday night was the last opportunity for candidates to deliver speeches and win over undecided delegates.

The night's final speaker, Craig Chandler, a 32-year-old fringe candidate, surprised delegates by dropping out and throwing his support to third-place candidate, Jim Prentice, after he severely criticized the other three candidates.

It's believed only two of Chandler's delegates actually showed up at the convention.

Mackay reacted to Chandler's criticisms by saying that the bitterness was unnecessary and not good for the party.

Earlier, the crowd heard from Scott Brison, 36, an openly gay fiscal conservative from Nova Scotia with 10 per cent support. He took this last chance to sharply attack MacKay on his policy platform.

He appealed to delegates to, "not abandon the party in the hands of the status quo candidate."

He added, "The last thing our party needs is a leader who does not know what he believes in."

Prentice, 46, a Calgary lawyer, holding 15 per cent of delegate support, gave a passionate speech that recalled the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers who fought bravely in the battle of Passchendale. He also spoke of his uncle who died fighting for freedom in the First World War.

He said, "We are a courageous people. We are a talented people. We are a resilient people."

Like Brison, Prentice also asked delegates to take responsibility for the future of the party.

"You stand before me with the responsibility of choosing a new leader, a leader who can speak to this great nation, who can inspire, can lead," he added.

David Orchard, a 52 year-old Saskatchewan farmer, with 26 per cent support, dismissed concerns that he was a misfit in the party.

`If this is so, I'm in good company," said Orchard, invoking the spirit of Robert Borden and John Diefenbaker, among others.