Canadian Conservative Leadership: Can Charest, Brown Stop Poilievre?

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on March 29, 2022
pierre poilievre

In the midst of February’s Trucker Convoy through Ottawa, the Canadian Conservative Party decided to get rid of Erin O’Toole, the erstwhile leader of the Canadian Conservatives. Is Pierre Poilievre the true favorite to replace him?

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Who will win the Canadian Conservative leadership election?

CandidatePredictIt PriceImplied Odds
Pierre Poilievre$0.52-108
Jean Charest$0.30+233
Patrick Brown$0.03+3233
Leslyn Lewis$0.03+3233
Scott Aitchison$0.03+3233
Mark Dalton$0.03+3233
Roman Baber$0.03+3233
Leona Alleslev$0.03+3233

Background

Since Stephen Harper lost in 2015, the Tories have had two leadership elections, picking a new leader to replace Harper and then to replace his successor after Andrew Scheer lost the 2019 election.

Since then, the Party has been in a bit of internal crisis, with two choices from the middle of the party, choosing against moderate alternatives and not picking the furthest right wing candidate either. For the party, they’re stuck between wanting to moderate to win a general election and wanting to go to their base.

The fact that there is a right wing splinter party – the People’s Party – that was formed by the loser of the 2017 Leadership race makes it harder, as some Conservatives blame the PPC for the loss in 2021.

Pierre Poilievre

Unaffectionately nicknamed Skippy, Poilievre is the only remaining non-Liberal MP from Ottawa, and has managed to position himself as the choice of the Conservative mainstream.

Supportive of the Trucker Convoy that rolled through Ottawa but not stupid enough to get himself caught near any of the lunatics who congregated in the streets of Ottawa, Poilievre is the choice of those Conservatives who think they lost the last two elections for being insufficiently conservative.

Poilievre is offering a forthright articulation of Conservative principles and he is saying to the conservative members who will pick the leader that they can win while sticking to their principles, and is the candidate for people who want to win by eating the PPC’s lunch.

Jean Charest

Once described as “Fancy French Jeb! Bush”, Charest is the former Premier of Quebec whose last successful election campaign was in the dying days of the Bush presidency.

Charest was a former Progressive Conservative Cabinet Minister in the 80s and 90s before the Canadian right split, and he ended up going back to provincial politics in 1997, after his star turn in the 1995 Quebec Independence Referendum.

Charest took control of the No to Independence campaign in the dying weeks and resurrected it, leading to a narrow No win and Quebec staying in Canada. Charest then took over the leading federalist party, and won three elections for them, helping to kill Quebec independence.

He then ran a government so appalling corrupt that Macleans wrote a cover story calling it the most corrupt province, and included a quote from a former Cabinet Member under Charest calling the government “rife with collusion, graft and barely concealed favouritism.”

Charest is a well-known moderate who is trying to win a party membership full of social conservatives in Western Canada who hate the way Quebec has been given every advantage by Canada while the West is left to fend for himself, so he’s a non-starter.

Throw in the corruption, and the fact that he lobbied for Chinese Telco Huawei while the Chinese government held 2 Canadians hostage, and Charest has no chance in hell of winning this.

Patrick Brown

The former MP for Barrie, Brown ended up moving to the other side of Toronto to run for the Mayoralty of Brampton, defeating the incumbent on the back of strong support from non-white Bramptonians, and for a party that needs to win Brampton and places like it to get into office, Brown is an appealing choice – at least, at first.

Brown was also leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, and he was cruising to an election victory before being hit by MeToo allegations four months before the election. Those allegations have been disputed, but the damage was done.

While Brown got a settlement with the publisher of the claims that he claims vindicates him, but even a favourable reading of the facts are that Brown had a penchant for sleeping with college students into his 30s and using his title as a Member of Parliament to help him get laid.

There’s also no evidence Brown is particularly popular with any faction of the Tory membership – Brown forced his caucus to vote for a gay adoption bill that social conservatives hate, and he came out against modernizing Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum to have it mention homosexuality, which moderates hate him for.

Yes, he won the Ontario leadership back in 2015, but the Ontario membership is not reflective of the federal one and he pissed off a lot of the Ontario membership with his choices as leader – namely the gay rights flip flopping and him accepting a Federal carbon tax, which Conservatives hate.

He is the Marco Rubio of Canada – it looks good on paper and never comes together.

Leslyn Lewis

Lewis got the most votes in the 2020 Conservative leadership election’s second round, but the points system used – a form of electoral college – meant that she came in third, and her voter’s second preferences elected O’Toole.

She is a fervent Christian who wants to make the Tory Party more explicitly socially conservative – she is anti-abortion and against gay rights, both of which work with the Tory membership and decidedly don’t in the wider electorate.

She’s more of a contender than this price suggests – she has a campaign organization from last time and the data, and donors, to make a run. Even if she’s unlikely to win, her being priced with the flotsam is wrong.

Prospects

The thing for Conservatives who want to believe that it will be a non-Poilievre who will win this leadership race is that they’re hoping so, but the math doesn’t work for any non-Poilievre candidate.

Aitchison, Dalton, and Baber are all looking to boost their profiles amongst the social conservatives in the party membership, in the same way that Lewis did in 2020 and Brad Trost did in 2017 (before Trost lost his renomination), whereas Alleslev – the former Liberal turned Conservative who lost her seat in 2021 – is running because she has nothing better to do now that she’s unemployed.

Aitchison, Dalton, and Baber are going to funnel their supporters to Lewis and then Skippy, making it hard for the moderates to win., even if Alleslev funnels some of her supports to Charest or Brown.

If the final choice the membership has is Poilievre and either Brown or Charest, whoever gets more votes amongst the centrist moderate wing of the party, then Poilievre will win on the preferences of Lewis and the other social conservative, minor candidates.

If, on the other hand, Poilievre gets into a final two against someone to his right – likely Lewis – then he will win on the votes of the moderates, because if they aren’t fans of Poilievre’s, they would certainly find the prospects of a Lewis leadership worse.

The only way Poilievre doesn’t win a final ballot is if both Charest and Brown get above Poilievre, and the Tory membership is way too conservative to let that happen.

It’s Poilievre’s to lose, and my money is on him to win.

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