Politics

Conservatives say they're about to set another new membership record

Some Conservatives are predicting it will turn out to be the largest number of Canadians ever to join a political party at any one time in Canadian history.

Party insiders say they expect to surpass the record set in 2020

Conservative Party memberships soar ahead of leadership race

1 month ago
Duration 2:11
A record number of Canadians have joined the Conservative Party so they can have a say in the fall leadership race, something the party also hopes translates into votes in the next election.

Some Conservatives are predicting it will turn out to be the largest number of Canadians ever to join a political party at any one time in Canadian history.

Multiple Conservative Party of Canada sources say that, since the current contest to choose a new party leader began, more than 400,000 people have either joined the party, have renewed their memberships, or are existing members, giving them the right to vote in the leadership race.

"There is unprecedented interest in joining the Conservative Party of Canada," party president Rob Batherson told CBC News.

"I think that people are really motivated right now in this post-pandemic timeframe. They're interested in getting engaged in politics and in changing things in Canada," said veteran Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis.

WATCH Today is the deadline to sign up new members to vote in the Conservative leadership race: 

Today is the deadline to sign up new members to vote in the Conservative leadership race

1 month ago
Duration 9:10
Three Conservative Party insiders join Power & Politics to discuss the membership deadline for the leadership race, and what the federal party could learn from last night's Progressive Conservative win in Ontario.

Batherson wouldn't confirm the 400,000 figure or disclose the current number of party memberships. The deadline for signing up new members to vote in the leadership race is today. Memberships can be purchased online until 11:59 pm ET, while all other new memberships have to be received at Conservative Party Headquarters by 5:00 pm ET.

Batherson said he doesn't expect the final tally to be confirmed until many days from now.

"There's a process to challenge names on the list," he said. "So it's why we don't disclose numbers until well after the deadline, because we want to make sure we get accurate information out into the public domain."

When Justin Trudeau won the Liberal leadership in 2013, the party had 127,000 registered voters.

'There's quite a backlog'

In 2020, the CPC set a record for new and existing memberships in a leadership race — 269,469 in total. Party insiders say this year's race is expected to significantly surpass that number.

Batherson said he expects the final tally will grow a lot in the last few days before Friday's cutoff because the campaign teams themselves often submit large numbers of new memberships.

"Sometimes campaigns hold back and so we have to be prepared for a significant influx before June 3," he said.

Conservative leadership candidates Pierre Poilievre (top left), Leslyn Lewis (top centre), Jean Charest (top right), Roman Baber (bottom left), Patrick Brown (bottom centre) and Scott Aitchison. (The Canadian Press)

Batherson said the party has had to extend its processing hours into nights and weekends to accommodate all the new memberships.

Paradis said the party is falling behind on membership processing. "As a result, there's quite a backlog," she said. "I understand that it's now a one month long delay, which is significant."

Batherson insisted the party will do everything it must to ensure that a new leader is announced on September 10.

With the clock ticking down to the deadline, all six candidates have been scrambling to sign up supporters through social media and in person.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre visits St. John's, N.L. to rally support for his bid for party leadership. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Addressing a huge crowd in Saskatoon Tuesday night, candidate Pierre Poilievre encouraged his supporters to get their neighbours, friends and family members to sign up.

Candidate Leslyn Lewis was in St John's on Wednesday night. She told CBC News she continues to see new faces in her travels across the country.

"Different issues are emerging where people are gravitating toward those individuals who have the courage to talk about those issues," she said, citing her opposition to vaccine mandates, among other things.

"Those issues are important to people and we're seeing that people from different parties are gravitating to candidates that will discuss them."

Patrick Brown took his message to Montreal on Wednesday night to a dinner organized by the Muslim community. It was just one of about 20 membership sales events Brown conducts on a daily basis.

"So help me change the political debate in our country," Brown told the dozens of supporters gathered to hear him speak.

On Friday Brown's campaign sent out a note to supporters claiming his campaign is on the "cusp of victory" after having sold 150,000 memberships.

Jean Charest speaks to attendees during the launch of his campaign for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada at Wildrose Brewery in Calgary, AB on March 10, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Jean Charest spent much of his week on social media and personally working the phones.

"We have sold memberships in every single riding across Canada," Charest campaign spokesperson Lawrence Toth told CBC News in an email.

"Vote efficiency is key. We have focused on signing up new and lapsed members in every riding, across all regions.

"We are extremely happy with our sales, we have re-engaged and signed up thousands of new members and thousands of people who have not been involved since the Harper government years.

"Particularly, we are excited to see engagement from Quebec and Atlantic Canada."

Scott Aitchison's campaign manager Jamie Ellerton said his team has been working the phones and executing digital operations for their final membership push.

Campaigns will try to 'psych each other out' — Paradis

Roman Baber has used social media almost on a daily basis to reach out to supporters.

None of the campaigns would tell CBC News how many new supporters they've signed up. But that doesn't mean they aren't looking over their shoulders.

"The teams are always inflating what they've sold to try to psych each other out," Paradis said. "That's just part of the psychology of this race ... you want to motivate your volunteers to keep going and pushing towards the ... final hour and de-motivate the other team."

The next phase of the race starts today. The six candidates and their teams now shift to persuasion mode, hoping to convince those hundreds of thousands of members to vote for them.

"Frankly, we haven't really seen what's been going on because they've been solely focused on just selling memberships on the ground to people," Paradis said.

"Now we'll start to see probably more [of] what people would think of as a traditional campaign."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Thibedeau

Parliament Hill

Hannah Thibedeau is a veteran political reporter having covered the Hill for more than 15 years, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. She covers politics for CBC TV, CBC Radio and CBC Politics online.

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