The Pollcast: Your primer on the Conservative leadership race

Conservatives will choose their next leader in May 2017, and the race is as good as on. What impact will the rules have on the campaign? What potential candidates have the inside track? Éric Grenier breaks it down with Conservative insiders Tim Powers and Chad Rogers in this week's podcast.

Host Éric Grenier is joined by Conservative insiders Tim Powers and Chad Rogers

The CBC Pollcast, hosted by CBC poll analyst and ThreeHundredEight.com founder Éric Grenier, explores the world of electoral politics, political polls and the trends they reveal.

Now that we have an end date, what should you expect from the Conservative leadership race? Tim Powers, Vice-Chariman of Summa Strategies, and Chad Rogers, partner at Crestview Strategy, join us.

The starting date has yet to be made official, but the finish line is already set. Conservatives will decide on who will lead them into the next election on May 27, 2017.

But there's a lot of ground to cover before the race is over.

Joining Éric Grenier on today's podcast to break down the party's leadership race are Conservative insiders Tim Powers, Vice-Chariman of Summa Strategies, and Chad Rogers, partner at Crestview Strategy. 

Now that the calendar has been marked, the next thing for the Conservative Party to spell out is rules of the leadership race. But another contentious debate over how the votes will be counted is not in the cards.

"I think you'll see as the Conservatives get closer to having their convention this year in May," says Rogers, "that they're going to be saying to people that constitutional and by-law changes are no longer on the table because we've already given birth to the process, so anything that we would debate now would effect the next leadership process, whenever that will be in the future."

Powers agrees.

"There's no benefit for the party in starting a debate about how the leader will get elected given that it's been an established process for ten years," he says. "The debate should be about what the party stands for, what the various candidates stand for, and how those particular things will play themselves out."

Since the party's founding, the leadership rules giving each electoral district association equal weight have been kept in place, often defended on the convention floor by Peter MacKay, the last leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

It is thought that this system, which awards each riding 100 points regardless of whether the electoral district association counts 30 members or 3,000, helps candidates from the PC wing of the party. They are more likely to be favoured in Quebec and Atlantic Canada where there are fewer members, whereas candidates from the old Reform wing of the party would do better in ridings in western Canada that have thousands of members. 

All about the ground game

Rogers suggests there are two sets of information that exist in leadership races, but only one of them matters.

"There are two tracks to every leadership campaign, just like an old 45. The A track that we pay more attention to, where are you in the national media unofficial primary, where are you in the money primary, where are you in the endorsements primary ... The A track has nothing to do with the outcome," says Rogers. 

"The B track is, how much mail have you sent, how many calls have you made, who are your organizers in 338 separate ridings, and what's your current number projection — what's your delegate count and how do you plan to win 338 separate delegate selection meetings. The B track is the only one that matters."

Nevertheless, polls do give an indication of what the wider public is thinking about the on-going race. One recent poll suggested Conservative voters favoured Peter MacKay and Kevin O'Leary, while poll results released Thursday by Abacus Data (which did not include O'Leary in the list of potential candidates) put MacKay well ahead of some potential opponents.

The former cabinet minister led with 42 per cent support among Conservatives voters in the poll, followed by Alberta MP Jason Kenney at 19 per cent and Ontario MPs Lisa Raitt and Tony Clement at 13 per cent each. Quebec MP Maxime Bernier stood at 5 per cent (but was in second place in Quebec), while Ontario MP Kellie Leitch was tied with former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord at 4 per cent.

MacKay, Raitt, Kenney have potential - if they run

Rogers and Powers agreed that MacKay has the highest profile of the potential candidates, and so comes to the table with a big advantage. But Kenney carries a lot of weight within the party.

"He was never the leader of the Conservative Party, but he is the leader of the conservative movement," says Rogers. "So Jason Kenney controls the largest segment of voting blocs that could feasibly be mobilized."

But Powers does not believe that Kenney will throw his hat in the ring.

Another candidate to keep an eye on is Raitt, who has roots in both Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

"Lisa's a Cape Bretoner with a Toronto seat," says Powers. "So she has a sort of dual appeal for a lot of the East in key markets."

And what about Brad Wall, premier of Saskatchewan? With an election looming, Wall has ruled himself out of contention. But that doesn't mean he won't necessarily be a candidate.

"Past is not prologue in Canadian politics," says Rogers. "I will never believe a refutation in politics."

Listen to the full discussion above — or subscribe to The CBC Pollcast and listen to past episodes here.

You can also follow Chad Rogers and Tim Powers on Twitter.

The poll by Abacus Data was conducted between January 8 and 12, 2016, interviewing 1,500 Canadians via the Internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.