Former Conservative cabinet minister Kellie Leitch says she is considering a run for the Conservative Party leadership, as the unofficial race to replace Stephen Harper begins in the most unlikely of places – Nova Scotia – where the Tories were wiped out in last month's federal election.
Ms. Leitch, who represents the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey, is the first of an expected long list of contenders to address the issue so clearly.
She will be at Monday's annual Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative fundraising dinner in Halifax, but she is not the only former minister attending the $300-a-plate event.
Former cabinet ministers Peter MacKay of Nova Scotia and Ontario MP Lisa Raitt, who are also considered contenders for the leadership, will be there. All three former ministers have strong ties to the province.
In a telephone interview on Sunday, Ms. Leitch – at 45, the youngest of the troika who is known for her ambition – told The Globe and Mail that she is seriously considering a bid and has already been making calls to unsuccessful Tory candidates in the province, thanking them for running.
In addition, she says colleagues and friends have been talking to her about seeking the leadership. She said that she has been really "humbled" by that. Ms. Leitch has been involved in the party, both provincially and federally, since a young age. She served as minister of labour and minister for the status of women in the former Harper government, and was a protégé of former finance minister Jim Flaherty.
"I'm giving it some serious consideration," she said, "but it is because I care a lot about the party."
Ms. Leitch, who is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, also has an MBA, which she completed at Halifax's Dalhousie University in 1998. She was involved in PC politics then, and has maintained ties to the province.
She is comfortable speaking French but does not consider herself fluently bilingual. She was criticized during the campaign for announcing, along with defeated immigration minister Chris Alexander, a tip line to report "barbaric cultural practices" as part of the wedge politics that dominated the election race.
Ms. Leitch has said it was not communicated well.
Officially, Monday's dinner is to honour Mr. MacKay, the former justice minister who, as the senior minister from Nova Scotia, helped out the province with millions of dollars in funding for new infrastructure – such as a state-of-the art wellness centre in his former Central Nova riding. He will be speaking at the dinner, at which several hundred people are expected. He did not return queries as to the subject of his remarks.
He resigned his Nova Scotia seat before the Oct. 19 election. No one is expecting he will launch his leadership bid Monday night, but he may use the venue to promote his vision for the region and the country.
Mr. MacKay was the last leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He and Mr. Harper merged the Canadian Alliance and the PC Party in 2003.
Mr. Harper resigned as prime minister last Wednesday, just before Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet were sworn in at Rideau Hall. Former health minister Rona Ambrose was elected interim Conservative Leader by her caucus. In an interview on CTV's Question Period on Sunday, Ms. Ambrose suggested there will be a new "constructive" tone under her leadership.
So far, indications are that it will be a long rebuilding and leadership process, possibly up to two years.
Meanwhile, Ms. Raitt, the former transport minister, grew up on Cape Breton and still has strong roots there, although she represents the riding of Milton. A popular and effective minister, she has always been rumoured as a potential replacement for Mr. Harper.
Ms. Raitt skirted around the leadership issue Sunday. "Peter is a friend and I wanted to go with my friends to thank him for all he's done for Cape Breton," she wrote in an e-mail.
For now, she says, "I'm going to help rebuild our party – membership has to tell us what went wrong before we figure out how to correct the path."