It's crunch time as Conservatives vote now for new leader

The new Conservative leader won't be announced until May 27, but many party members are voting now for their top choice.

Candidates trying to pick up support after Kevin O'Leary quits campaign

Conservative members are filling out ballots as they choose a new leader. (CBC )

Conservatives gather in three weeks to announce the party's new leader at a convention in Toronto that will feature two days of speeches and a tension-building reveal on the Saturday night.

But the pressure-packed politicking and the frantic scrounging for support that have been the hallmarks of Conservative conventions in the past are happening right now across the country.

There's nearly 260,000 eligible party members, and with voting underway the leadership camps are in a make-or-break push to get out the vote.

The ballots, which ask members to rank up to 10 candidates in order of preference, were mailed out more than a week ago. Many have already been filled out and sent back to party headquarters for counting.

Bill Ayyad, a riding association president in Ottawa, said his phone has been ringing non-stop with calls from the leadership campaigns.

"I think I got it from everybody, and I'm sorry to say some I've blocked," he told CBC News, laughing. "I can see the numbers and I know who that is."

CBC spoke to Ayyad when he was considering supporting Kevin O'Leary as the businessman entered the race in February.

He's picked a new candidate for first spot, but won't say who it is.

"I'm definitely sure about my number one. I'm definitely sure about who I'm not going to vote for. But it's two, three and four that are just going to be a toss-up," he said.

'It's not in the bag'

When O'Leary dropped out of the race last week, he promptly announced he was throwing his support behind Maxime Bernier. In an online video to his supporters, O'Leary asked them to do the same, as he held up his own ballot.

Bill Ayyad, a Conservative riding association president in Ottawa, shows how to fill out a ballot for the Conservative leadership race. Members of the party will rank their choice for new leader and mail in their ballots. (CBC )

"You know who I'm voting for. I've already made up my mind. Maxime Bernier. So here we go, you're going to watch me vote for Max right now," O'Leary said in the video.

But Ayyad cautions not all of O'Leary supporters will follow his lead.

"I think some of them are upset O'Leary left so they may decide to say, well you know you've gone to Bernier, but I'm upset with you because you left. I'm going to go elsewhere," Ayyad said.

Bernier himself told reporters this week there was still a lot of work to do.

"It's not in the bag, you know. We have to work. We still have three weeks, and we will see what will happen," Bernier said.

He is hoping the majority of O'Leary's support comes his way.

"They like the freedom ideas. They like our platform. So it is easier for us to have them with me," Bernier said.

Final push 

Other candidates are actively trying to pick up the pieces from O'Leary's campaign.

Three of O'Leary's Quebec organizers joined Andrew Scheer's campaign Thursday, a key province for any candidate hoping to win. Another announced his support for Ontario MP Erin O'Toole.

And Kellie Leitch wants to win over some of those supporters, too. 

"I can tell you that a number of individuals are very disappointed in what Mr. O'Leary decided to do and they're not looking to have someone tell them how to vote," she said. "They're going to make up their own mind and I can tell you as a conservative alternative in this race, individuals are coming to me in droves."

Ranking choices 

​The new leader will be chosen with a ranked ballot system.

That means if a party member's first choice is knocked off the ballot, their second choice gets the vote.

That process continues until a leader is chosen.

The party needs to receive all mail in ballots by 5 p.m. ET on May 26 in order to count them in time for May 27.

Conservatives can also vote on the day the new leader is chosen by either coming to the Toronto Congress Centre or by visiting eight polling stations across the country that Saturday.

But most conservatives are expected vote by mail, ahead of time. And many are tweeting out pictures of their choices.

Most are choosing just three or four candidates.

Not Scott Reid, a member of the Conservative party who resides in Ottawa (not to be confused with Scott Reid, the Conservative MP who represents Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston).

Reid is planning on filling out all 10.

He said his first choice was easy: he's voting for Pierre Lemieux, a former Ontario MP.  Lemieux is one of two candidates running on a social conservative platform. He's pushing for the new leader to openly debate all topics, including sensitive ones such as abortion.

"I think it's important because if you can't talk about it, if you can't debate it then it's not really a free and open democracy, if you can't talk about it. So we should at least be able to discuss things," Reid said.

Scott Reid is a Conservative Party member based in Ottawa. He's supporting Pierre Lemieux, but says he will be filling out all of the spaces on his ballot, ranking 10 leadership candidates. (CBC )

Lemieux is travelling in British Columbia this week. He's carrying a portable photocopier for people who need somewhere to copy their ID, which must accompany their ballot.

After Lemieux, Reid plans to vote for Brad Trost, a Saskatchewan MP, who has also run on a social conservative platform.

Neither are expected to win, so his third choice becomes key. Reid chose O'Toole, who has outperformed his top two choices in most polls.

"He seems like a really likeable guy. I've looked at his record on what he did with Veteran's Affairs and that sort of stuff," Reid said, referring to O'Toole's time as minister of veteran's affairs.

"I've got a lot of respect for the military and people who put that highly. I'm like okay, I think Erin is a good guy, so I've put him third."

As for the other seven slots, Reid says he's going to do more research but he's determined to fill them out.

"I'm going to use them all, because if they're going to give me that voice, I'm going to use it."

O'Leary made a second choice, too. He chose Deepak Obhrai, a Conservative MP who most polls show in last place.

"I love the guy. I really do. What a trooper. Is he going to win? No. But does he deserve my second vote? Yes. I just want to appreciate the work he's done for such a long time for the Conservative party. And he's fun to work with," O'Leary said.


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