Day 6

'Party crashers' try to swing the Conservative leadership to Michael Chong

These 'party crashers', many of whom have never voted Conservative, say their intentions are good. Critics say they're infiltrators trying to undermine the party.
Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch speaks with The Canadian Press during an interview in Ottawa, Tuesday April 11, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

With Conservative Party members gathering in Toronto on Saturday, Maxime Bernier seems poised to become the party's next leader. But it's Bernier's fellow candidate, Kellie Leitch, who has inspired a number of newly minted Conservative Party members to register to vote in the leadership race — including untold numbers who have signed up to vote against her.

These so-called 'party crashers' are part of a movement of self-professed progressive Canadians who have not supported the Conservative Party historically. In fact, many of them have volunteered for other parties, actively campaigning against the Conservatives in federal elections.

Their shared desire to stop Leitch has led to accusations of infiltration from the right and misguidedness from the left. But they say they've signed up in good faith, and that their support for their chosen candidate, Michael Chong, is the real deal. 


Looking for a new Conservative Party

Toronto's Elliot Coombe participates in an event organized by Macleans columnist Scott Gilmore, focused on re-imagining the Conservative Party. (Courtesy of Elliot Coombe)

Elliot Coombe is a 30-year-old political organizer, artist, and entrepreneur from Toronto. He's supported the Liberals and the NDP in the past, but says he has nothing against the Conservative Party, on principle. 

"In my entire voting life it's always been Harper's party. And for the first time, I'm very excited to see that there's other voices in the party — including voices that have spoken up against Harper — in the running for the leadership."

I'm very excited to see that there's other voices in the party.- Elliot Coombe

Coombe's excitement is such that he's been encouraging as many of his fellow "progressive millennials" as possible to join him in participating in the leadership race.

He acknowledges that their movement has been attacked from the right and the left, but says he's genuinely excited about Michael Chong as a candidate.  

"I saw a member of Parliament who was principled, willing to speak truth to power ... and just the kind of guy who seems willing to put the country ahead of his own career."


"Little pitchers have big ears"

Courtney Howard is a physician and mom in Yellowknife, who joined the Conservative Party to support Michael Chong in the leadership race. (Submitted by Darcy Scott)

Yellowknife physician Courtney Howard says it was her concern for others that motivated her to register to participate in Saturday's leadership vote.

Howard's friend and the family's nanny is a woman from Djibouti, who considered returning to her home country in 2015, when Leitch and fellow Conservative, Chris Alexander, vowed to create a "barbaric cultural practices" tip line.

"It just really upset me that she was considering forgoing the opportunity to stay in Canada because of the tenor of our political discussions," she says.

Howard also says she didn't want her kids to hear the kind of language Leitch was using to talk about immigrants and refugees.

I don't think many of us... are coming at it from a place of dishonesty.- Courtney Howard

"They keep track. They listen ... little pitchers have big ears."

As a past NDP member, and one-time volunteer for both the Liberal Party and the Green Party, Howard is precisely the kind of progressive voter that many Conservatives suspect of infiltration. But she says there's nothing untoward about her participation in the leadership race.

"I mean, I read the Conservative Party constitution and there wasn't anything in there that I really disagreed with, so I don't think many of us who are doing this are coming at it from a place of dishonesty."


"Bigger" leadership votes as the future of party politics 

Vancouver Green Party supporter Denis Agar has joined the Conservative Party to vote in its leadership race. (Courtesy of Denis Agar)

"I have been a lifelong Green Party member," Vancouver resident Denis Agar freely admits.

But when asked what he thinks of the accusation that party crashers like him would never actually vote Conservative, Agar laughs.  

"I can tell you one thing," he says. "I will absolutely not vote for Maxime Bernier or Kellie Leitch or Andrew Scheer if they end up elected the leader of the Party."

So would Agar consider casting a ballot for a party led by Michael Chong?

"I'm open to it," he says.

"We've been so concerned about voter turnout for so long in Canadian politics." - Denis Agar

No matter the outcome on Saturday, Agar says he's reassured that this week's leadership vote won't just be determined by the usual suspects.

"We've been so concerned about voter turnout for so long in Canadian politics. And now what we're seeing is bigger elections for the party leader, which I think is a really great trend."

Howard says participating in this way has helped expose her to a wider range of opinions than Facebook and Twitter typically allow.

"I suspect it's probably helping to get everybody out of their echoing tunnel," she says.

Coombe, meanwhile, says this isn't about partisanship at all; it's about Canada.

"My allegiance is to the country, not to a party." 

To hear the full conversation with Elliot Coombe, Courtney Howard and Denis Agar, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.