Tory caucus meets today for 1st time since election loss

Conservatives are meeting on Parliament Hill today to dissect the party's electoral defeat and to pick a new interim leader to replace Stephen Harper.

Conservatives to pick a new interim leader, but will also hear from outgoing leader Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper, who has kept a low profile since election night, will address Conservatives Thursday on Parliament Hill, after which the new Conservative caucus will elect an interim leader to replace him. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Conservatives are meeting on Parliament Hill today to dissect the party's electoral defeat and to pick a new interim leader to replace Stephen Harper.

Harper, who officially resigned as prime minister yesterday one hour before Justin Trudeau was sworn in as his successor, addressed the caucus for the first time since losing the election.

Tory MPs who won and lost their seats are gathering with Tory senators to chart the course for party renewal.

Conservative MP Rona Ambrose, one of eight members vying for the interim leadership, said the party is in "very good shape." Conservatives were elected in 99 ridings.

"We won [Official] Opposition and we are going to be a strong, confident and optimistic opposition," she said, adding she looks forward to working both with Tory colleagues and the new Liberal government.

Ontario MP Tony Clement said Canadians don't want the party to "dwell on the past," and called today the "first chapter of moving forward." He said the 35 new caucus members — 33 of them who have never served in the House of Commons — will be the "new force" in the party.

"They bring no prejudices of the past and they will help us renew our party and our caucus in the future," he said.

  Lisa Raitt, the former transport minister, said it's an emotional day. 

"I think there will be a lot of hugs, a lot of gladness to see each other and lamenting those that didn't make it," she told CBC News Network Thursday.

Raitt said the interim leader should be competent, qualified and empathetic.

"I'm looking for somebody who first and foremost has the ability to hold the government to account. That is our job as the loyal Opposition," Raitt said.

"Second, I'm going to be looking specifically for how they interact with both new members of caucus and older members of caucus to see how they're going to put together a team, build going forward and be positive about what our future looks like.

Raitt said in particular, the interim leader needs to rebuild the party in Eastern Canada, where the Liberals won every seat.

Senators part of post-mortem

Ontario Senator Tobias Enverga is looking for some answers.

"We're hoping for — that there will be more explanation," the senator told CBC News as he arrived in Ottawa this week.

Nova Scotia Senator Michael Macdonald has no hard feelings.

"The campaign's over. We have to go forward. The prime minister is there for nine years. He's a great party leader. He leaves a great legacy. I look forward to hearing from him," MacDonald said.

8 candidates for interim leader

The second caucus meeting today will be attended by only the 99 Conservatives elected last month.

They must vote on whether to follow the new rules laid out in the Reform Act, established by a bill drafted by Conservative MP Michael Chong and supported by the Conservatives while in government.

Those rules include how the interim leader will be chosen. In particular, the MPs must decide whether senators will be allowed to vote.

There are eight people hoping to get the job.

Most have been working the phones, lining up support all week. One, Manitoba's Candice Bergen, invited Conservatives to drop by her Parliament Hill office Wednesday.

Another, Ontario's Diane Finley, received an endorsement from a previous Conservative interim leader, John Reynolds.

"She has the institutional knowledge of both working in government and opposition, as well as inter-party politics, with an extensive background in business," Reynolds wrote in a statement to caucus this week, adding "Diane [Finley] knows how to grow as a team and move forward with an agenda."

The Conservative Party's executive director will officially count the preferential ballots today.