Jason Kenney endorses Erin O'Toole for Conservative leadership
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney — one of the most prominent voices in Canada's Conservative movement — has thrown his support behind Erin O'Toole's bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The endorsement comes on the very day that O'Toole's chief rival for the leadership, Peter MacKay, was delivering remarks to supporters in Edmonton.
In an email to party members provided to journalists by O'Toole's team, Kenney says he thought long and hard about his decision to endorse a candidate.
"The Conservative Party of Canada must choose a leader who is true blue and can get things done," Kenney says in the email.
He argues O'Toole has what it takes to win in key regions of the country that Conservatives need to form a government.
Kenney notes that he served in cabinet when O'Toole was veterans affairs minister. He does not mention that he also spent many years in cabinet with MacKay.
In fact, in his email endorsing O'Toole, Kenney takes a dig at MacKay:
"No one will have their deeply-held beliefs dismissed as 'stinking albatrosses' under Erin O'Toole's leadership."
That's an obvious reference to comments MacKay made after last fall's election. In the wake of Andrew Scheer's loss, MacKay said questions about women's reproductive rights and LGBTQ issues "hung around Andrew Scheer's neck like a stinking albatross" throughout the campaign.
MacKay and Kenney represent opposite poles of the conservative movement.
MacKay was leader of the Progressive Conservatives when the party merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the modern Conservative Party.
Kenney has been a leading voice on the party's right. He was recruited to run for office by Preston Manning's Reform Party and ran Stockwell Day's campaign to lead the Canadian Alliance. He was a major player in the Alliance's merger efforts.
Kenney also played a key role in growing the Conservative Party of Canada's political fortunes, helping to establish links with cultural communities across the country and reaching out to new Canadians.
In his endorsement email, Kenney writes that he believes O'Toole will continue what he describes as "critical outreach work."
MacKay has been widely described as the front-runner in the race. Several polls have shown he's more-well known across Canada than any other candidate.
In terms of the sheer number of endorsements, MacKay is well in the lead. He currently has the backing of 27 MPs, two senators and Nova Scotia PC Leader Tim Houston. O'Toole has the backing of eight MPs.
But Kenney's political heavyweight status ensures this particular endorsement will resonate.
MacKay and O'Toole are the only two candidates in the eight-person race who have cleared all the hurdles required by the party. Both men have achieved "verified candidate" status, meaning they have submitted $300,000 in registration fees and compliance deposit and 3,000 signatures from party members across the country.
The Conservative Party will announce the results of its leadership race on June 27.
with files from Eric Grenier