Politics

Despite calls from some candidates for a delay, Conservative Party won't change leadership deadline

The Conservative Party says it will not change the timetable for its leadership contest, despite calls from some candidates to postpone an upcoming deadline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last deadline for candidates to qualify will remain March 25

On Monday, the Conservative Party announced it would not postpone the upcoming Mar. 25 deadline for leadership candidates to qualify. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Conservative Party says it will not change the timetable for its leadership contest, despite calls from some candidates to postpone an upcoming deadline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the party praised some candidates for making the difficult decision to suspend campaign activities, it said in a press release Monday that it's "confident that all requirements, key dates and milestones can be met to continue the race."

In order to assist candidates in the current circumstances, the party is providing them with lists of vendors that can assist with virtual town halls and now plans to hold upcoming candidates' debates without audiences. The party also will take the extra step of notifying all members of upcoming virtual town halls — even those organized by candidates who have not yet met all eligibility requirements.

The news comes after three candidates openly called for the party to postpone the Mar. 25 deadline for eligibility, citing the limitations the pandemic has imposed on candidates' ability to raise funds and collect signatures.

In order to qualify for the Conservative leadership, candidates need to submit 3,000 signatures and $300,000 in fees and compliance deposits by Mar. 25. Only two candidates have so far reached that threshold — former cabinet minister Peter MacKay and Ontario MP Erin O'Toole.

Rudy Husny, Marilyn Gladu and Rick Peterson have all called on the party to push that deadline back.

'A distinct disadvantage'

"I don't believe that soliciting our members at this time is the right thing to do and will only make us look out of touch and, frankly, disconnected," said Husny in a press statement. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the party as a candidate in the Quebec riding of Outremont.

Husny cancelled a planned trip to Western Canada and a tour of Quebec due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"It is clear," he wrote, "that by suspending my campaign for the unprecedented public health emergency, it puts me and other candidates at a distinct disadvantage, with only days left until the deadline."

Gladu, a Conservative MP from southwestern Ontario, echoed Husny's concerns and called for the Mar. 25 deadline to be pushed back to May 1 and for "the party to show that they are not without social compassion."

Candidates suspending public campaign activities

On Monday, Peterson announced he would cease fundraising efforts until further notice as "the Canadian economy, and especially here in Western Canada, has come to a standstill. Families and businesses are facing a cash crunch, and are focused on their health and simply making it through the next several weeks.

"No matter how important this leadership race is, the health and well-being of family finances trumps everything today."

Last week, the businessman and 12th-place finisher in the 2017 leadership contest called for the deadline to be extended to Apr. 17 and suspended his public events after tweeting about the risk involved in boarding his "4th flight of the week headed to my 7th meet and greet with Conservatives, many of whom are seniors."

None of the other candidates have called for a postponement of the leadership deadline — including Derek Sloan, Leslyn Lewis and Jim Karahalios, who also have yet to meet the eligibility requirements. But all three have announced they are close to reaching them.

Sloan, an Ontario MP, announced on Monday that he is just $50,000 short of the $300,000 threshold. Lewis, who ran unsuccessfully for the party as a candidate in the 2015 federal election, said on Saturday she was $120,000 short but had her signatures in hand. On the same day, Karahalios said he needed to raise another $75,000.

But while Peterson, Husny and Gladu have been alone in calling for the deadline to be delayed, other candidates have suspended campaign activities. MacKay, O'Toole and Lewis cancelled their public events last week. Both MacKay and O'Toole have tweeted photos of themselves on the phone with members.

Voting for the Conservative leadership will be done by mail, with the results to be announced at an event in Toronto on June 27. The party says that it will "continue to discuss options on how to mitigate concerns over a gathering such as that, and what contingencies we could have in place, should the situation remain unchanged."

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