Kellie Leitch first off in lengthy race for Conservative leadership

Ontario MP Kellie Leitch is the first official candidate in the race for leadership of the Conservative Party. Leitch had for weeks been assembling a team to support a possible bid and formally registered Wednesday so she could carry out that work in accordance with party rules.

Early candidacy gives former Harper minister more time and flexibility to raise funds and rally support

Kellie Leitch filed an application to seek the Conservative Party leadership Wednesday, making her the first official candidate in the race. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ontario MP Kellie Leitch became the first official candidate in the race for leadership of the Conservative party on Wednesday.

She had for weeks been assembling a team to support a possible bid and took the step of formally registering so she could carry out that work in the open and in accordance with leadership race rules.

Leitch was first elected in 2011 in Simcoe-Grey. She was drawn into federal politics by former Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty, though she was a party volunteer for years and said she is thankful that support is now being returned to her.

"I'm looking forward to speaking with party members across the country — to hear directly from them and to share my ideas about what I believe we need to do to grow our movement and chart a course for our party to win in 2019," she said in a statement.

She won't have long to wait for company on the campaign trail. Maxime Bernier will file his leadership application on Thursday, according to an advisory sent out Wednesday by the Quebec MP.

Bernier, known for his libertarian bent, was first elected in 2006 in the riding of Beauce and has remained one of the party's most high-profile Quebec MPs ever since.

Ahead of his formal registration, he was active on social media promoting his belief that the government should not provide any grants or bailouts to the corporate sector — despite the fact his party, when in government, gave a leg up to General Motors.

"Give me a break with the GM bailout," he posted on Twitter. "I was not in favour of it."

Leitch, who is also a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, speaks French, though she does not consider herself bilingual.

The co-chairs of her campaign committee are Dany Renauld, head of a Quebec-based marketing and advertising firm, and Sander Grieve, a Toronto-based corporate lawyer who met Leitch when they were students in university.

Kenney, Chong, Raitt potential contenders

The vote for the next Conservative leader is scheduled for May 27, 2017, but the party faithful are to gather in Vancouver this spring for a policy convention.

While the rules for the leadership race were set in March, many consider the convention to be the real starting point for the race.

Others considering a bid including MPs Jason Kenney, Michael Chong, Tony Clement, Andrew Scheer and Lisa Raitt. So far, the only party outsider who has suggested an interest in the job is businessman and TV personality Kevin O'Leary.

In a statement to The Canadian Press, he said he has still not made up his mind.

"Way too early for any candidate to comment, including me!" O'Leary said in an email.

The party requires candidate applications to be backed by 300 signatures from party members from no less than 30 electoral districts from at least seven different provinces and territories.

Candidates must pay a $50,000 fee — half up front when they register and the rest later. They also have to give the party a further $50,000 to be held in case they break any campaign rules.

The candidates will be allowed to spend a maximum of $5 million on the race. Registering with Elections Canada also sets in motion requirements to disclose donations and campaign spending.

with a file from CBC News


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