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Justice Minister Peter MacKay stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Ottawa. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justice Minister Peter MacKay stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Ottawa. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

politics

Conservatives raise leadership spending cap to $5 million Add to ...

A decision by the federal Conservative party to allow leadership contestants to spend up to $5 million on their campaigns to succeed Stephen Harper is raising some eyebrows.

The spending limit is more than five times the $950,000 ceiling set by the Liberals in their last leadership contest in 2013, and it is 10 times the NDP cap of $500,000 imposed in 2012. It’s also twice what the Conservative party permitted the last time it chose a permanent leader in 2004.

“I guess my first concern would be, let’s see how many candidates we end up getting,” former Conservative transport minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday. “The pool of resources is going to be finite.”

Candidates for the Conservative leadership must pay a $50,000 registration fee and a refundable $50,000 “compliance” fee to enter the race, according to the rules released by the party late Tuesday.

“That’s a lot of money for individual people to raise,” said Raitt, a popular Conservative who represents the Toronto-area riding of Milton. “But I don’t know, it’s been a long time since we’ve done this, so we’ll see how it unfolds.”

She’s one of a half-dozen former Conservative cabinet ministers considered bona fide potential party leaders.

The Conservatives haven’t had a leadership contest since Harper helped unite the old Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in 2004.

Under Elections Canada rules adopted since then, party leadership contestants are allowed to spend no more than $25,000 on their own campaigns, and individual donations are capped at $1,525 a year. An old rule that limited leadership donations to a single, lifetime donation limit — which severely handicapped former Liberal party candidates from repaying their leadership debts — was rescinded as part of the Conservative government’s controversial Fair Elections Act in 2014.

Quebec MP Gerard Deltell, the former leader of the Action democratique du Quebec, said leadership contestants would be well advised not to spend the limit.

“I think if someone spends too much it will be criticized,” said the newly elected parliamentarian. “We are conservative. We are very careful about money. So I don’t think the one that will spend the most has an advantage.”

However, the length of the leadership race could boost spending. The new Conservative leader won’t be chosen until May 27, 2017. That compares to recent Liberal and NDP races that lasted only half a year.

The campaign rules preserve the hard-won party voting system from 2004 in which each electoral district in the country is accorded equal weight. The system prevents regions with huge party memberships from swamping regions with fewer members, and was part of the original deal negotiated by Peter MacKay and Harper when the legacy parties merged.

“The whole idea was to give all regions across the country equal rights,” said Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai, who called it a “great rule.”

Candidates must register by Feb. 24, 2017.

“I’m happy that the rules are out so everybody will understand,” said Raitt, who says she’s “absolutely” considering a run. “I guess it’s officially kicked off.”

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