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Stephen Harper plans to skip out on next month’s Conservative leadership convention where his successor will be chosen, a party official says.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper plans to skip out on this month's Conservative leadership convention where his successor will be chosen, a party official says.

The former prime minister and first leader of the Conservative Party of Canada won't be attending the May 27 convention in Toronto, in order to give the new leader an "opportunity to shine," the party official said.

"It's not about him, it's about the new leader," said the official, speaking only on background. Mr. Harper did, however, speak at the party convention in Vancouver last May.

Mr. Harper was leader of the party for 11 years since its modern inception in 2004, and prime minister for nine years from 2006 until October, 2015, when his party lost to Justin Trudeau's Liberals. He officially resigned as an MP in August of 2016 and has kept a low profile since, heading up a firm called Harper & Associates Consulting based in Calgary.

The party is expected to pay tribute at the convention to interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who took the helm of the party in November, 2015. Ms. Ambrose is also expected to speak at the convention.

There are 13 candidates in the running to lead the party, although Kevin O'Leary's name will still appear on the ballot as one of 14 choices even though the celebrity investor dropped out of the race late last month and endorsed Quebec MP Maxime Bernier. Almost 260,000 party members are registered to vote and most will mail in their choices on a ranked ballot that accommodates up to 10 names. Party officials expect voting to go several rounds before the new leader is chosen.

Mr. Bernier is now seen as the front-runner in the race, although some party members believe candidates considered to be more moderate, such as former Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer or former veterans affairs minister Erin O'Toole, have a shot at winning with enough second- or third-choice support.

After Wednesday’s final debate, Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch called Kevin O’Leary’s departure from the race “fabulous” for her. O’Leary has thrown his support behind Maxime Bernier.

The Canadian Press

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