Conservative leadership: 1 year out, declared and undeclared candidates make their pitch

Conservatives won't elect their leader until May 27, 2017. But to mark the one-year-out milestone, interim leader Rona Ambrose hosted a mainstage event at the party's policy convention in Vancouver with a who's who of leadership hopefuls.

Interim leader Rona Ambrose hosted main stage event featuring presumed and confirmed contenders

Canadian businessman Kevin O'Leary told Conservatives in Vancouver that he's now a shareholder: he bought a membership in the party he may run to lead just this week. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Conservative delegates shared a few laughs, made a few partisan jabs and kicked the tires of a who's who of party leadership hopefuls Friday afternoon in a session the party called "Back to Blue."

The Conservative Party won't elect its next leader until May 27, 2017.

But to mark the one-year-out milestone, interim leader Rona Ambrose hosted a mainstage event at the party's policy convention in Vancouver Friday.

Prominent Conservative MPs, including several presumed candidates who have not yet entered the race, joined Ambrose and former cabinet minister and Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day to answer a series of good-natured questions about where they think the party should head.

Former cabinet ministers Jason Kenney, Lisa Raitt and Tony Clement were joined by party newcomer Kevin O'Leary, Winnipeg radiologist and leadership candidate Dan Lindsay and a half-dozen other current MPs.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu gave a 'Tory Talk' dressed as the character of the grim reaper during a policy idea session at her party's policy convention Friday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Then the three declared leadership contenders thus far — Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong and Kellie Leitch — joined deputy leader Denis Lebel to discuss what's driving their bids.

Finally, ten party members, including several MPs, took stage for a TED talks-like pitch session, where they each had two minutes to propose a radical new idea for the party.

The presentations were a mix of serious ideas about how to better communicate relevant Tory policies, and good-natured joking, including prominent critics Andrew Scheer and Lisa Raitt "renaming" government departments to better reflect what the Liberals are really doing (or not.)

One rookie MP from Alberta offered a video presentation of what leadership debates might look like if they were done in the form of rap battles.

O'Leary in the lead?

The three declared candidates had hospitality suites organized for Friday evening at the convention. All of the contenders, including the assumed but not confirmed ones, are making the media rounds and shaking a lot of delegate hands as the convention continues through Saturday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, Raitt enthusiastically endorsed the vigorous policy debates underway as the party moves on to life after Stephen Harper's leadership.

"There's going to be a lot of views expressed here on the floor and it's going to show that we're more than what people perceive us to be," she said. "Opening our doors... is the best advertising for what our total brand is, as opposed to what others say our brand is." 

O'Leary is new to partisan politics, telling reporters Friday he just bought his party membership 48 hours ago. He wasn't quite ready to declare his candidacy.

"We're way early in the cycle here. We're a year away from this decision," he said, saying his strategy for now is to be transparent about what his platform would be on fiscal and economic policy.

"If that dialogue rings true with taxpayers and Canadian shareholders, my numbers in the polls will continue to rise. Apparently I'm leading right now."

"I have two options: I either go for it myself or I make one of these people... I'll be a kingmaker."


Janyce McGregor

Parliamentary Bureau

Janyce McGregor has covered Canadian politics for CBC News since 2001. Send news tips to: Janyce.McGregor@cbc.ca