Quebec MP André Bachand became the seventh Progressive Conservative leadership candidate on Monday, becoming the first from that province to throw his hat into the ring and positioning himself as a candidate who will unite francophones in the party to help it rebuild.
Mr. Bachand, the MP for Richmond-Arthabaska, made his announcement in Montreal on Monday, he was running with "Quebec in his heart" but urged francophones across the country to become involved in the Progressive Conservative party and the leadership race or it would risk becoming a regional party.
"Without a strong party of francophones, our party will become a regional party just like the Canadian Alliance," said Mr. Bachand, who becomes the seventh candidate in the race.
The 41-year-old, who was first elected to Parliament in the 1997 federal election, said his candidacy is not just a "symbolic gesture.
"I sincerely believe I have the experience to give new direction to Progressive Conservative Party," Mr. Bachand said.
He promised to create a party that is more dynamic, more responsive to the concerns of Canadians and a more open party to people of all backgrounds.
He also repeated recent calls by other candidates, including Heward Grafftey and Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice, for a French-language debate to be held in Quebec before the leadership convention is held in June.
So far, only one debate is scheduled for early March in Ottawa. Party officials say it will be a bilingual debate.
Mr. Bachand also spoke of the coincidence that he was announcing his candidacy on the same day, 10 years ago, that former prime minister Brian Mulroney resigned from the party and as prime minister.
He said that Mr. Mulroney had done much for Canadians, and that "Mr. Mulroney has shown it is possible to bring together the force of change in the Progressive Conservative party and it is possible to win in every region of the country.
"Before doing that, the party has to be renewed."
He said he will look to attract new members of the party, especially young new members.
Mr. Bachand has picked up support from individuals who five years ago supported Hugh Segal for the job, including backroom organizer Harry Near.
Other Progressive Conservatives welcomed his candidacy, saying it adds a much-needed dimension to the race.
"I think the party and the other candidates should be heartened," MP John Herron, who added that has not decided who he will support, told The Globe and Mail on the weekend. "This is a pan-Canadian group of candidates."
Others vying to replace outgoing Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark include MPs MPs Scott Brison and Peter MacKay, Saskatchewan farmer David Orchard and conservative activist Craig Chandler.
Mr. MacKay is currently seen as the front-runner.
With a report from Brian Laghi