The big guns of the Conservative family welcomed a star candidate into their fold at a weekend barbecue in Ontario that will clearly define Helena Guergis as a party outcast.
Kellie Leitch, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with an MBA, announced her bid on Saturday for the Conservative Party nomination in the riding of Simcoe-Grey for the next election. Former Ontario premier Bill Davis and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty were there for her announcement, made in Creemore, Ont.
The high-wattage guest list is designed to convey the sense that Dr. Leitch would be a player in government if the Harper Tories are re-elected. The government has sought her guidance since 2006 on issues such as a children's fitness tax credit and injury prevention among young Canadians.
The Conservatives want to steal the riding from Ms. Guergis, who won it for the Tories in 2004, 2006 and 2008, but is now on the outs in Ottawa and is promising to run as an Independent.
Dr. Leitch, 40, was born in Manitoba and grew up in a Conservative family in Northern Alberta before heading to Ontario for her university studies.
"My interest in running for office is to have a broader impact on Canadian families across the country," she said in an interview. "Ever since I can remember as a kid, it was instilled in me that doing public service is the thing you should aspire to do."
After spending years treating injured children one at a time, Dr. Leitch said she now wants to help the government to set targets and help thousands of people at once by tackling issues such as obesity or mental illness among children.
She would have to adapt to the fact that health care is mainly a provincial jurisdiction. Still, Dr. Leitch has focused on innovation in the medical field, and there is no shortage of similar challenges in Ottawa.
"I'll be making a choice to be involved in broader public policy issues in the federal jurisdiction," she said.
Dr. Leitch said her mentors are in the field of medicine, but she credits people like Mr. Flaherty and Industry Minister Tony Clement (formerly at Health Canada) for drawing her to a political career.
Ms. Guergis resigned as minister of state for the status of women and then left the Conservative caucus after a controversy over the business dealings of her husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer. She said she did not know that she wouldn't be allowed to return after the RCMP cleared her of any wrongdoing, and she predicted a backlash in the riding among Conservative supporters.
"They're angered that their opinion, their vote, at this point has not mattered, and they have told me very clearly that they will support me as an Independent," she said this week on CBC.
But the Conservatives have turned their backs definitively on Ms. Guergis, and the hope is that Dr. Leitch will help voters get beyond the controversy.
"Kellie is one of those candidates that we would be lucky to have in Parliament," said a friend, party organizer Kevin Gallagher. "Any time you can bring a top pediatric surgeon to Parliament, it raises the level of debate on health care and particularly health care for children. That affects everyone, regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum."
Dr. Leitch said that if everything goes to plan and she enters the House of Commons, she will continue with a part-time practice in Simcoe-Grey.
With a report from The Canadian Press