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adam radwanski

Rona Ambrose should probably settle into Stornoway a bit.

As the federal Conservatives' national council prepares to meet next weekend for the first time since this fall's election, the party seems in no hurry to select Stephen Harper's long-term replacement as leader.

While it's unlikely the date for the leadership vote will be announced until the new year, the Tories appear to be headed to holding it only in 2017, or fall of 2016 at the very earliest.

Despite an early push from some Conservatives to hold the vote next spring, there now appears to be a near-consensus among caucus members and others that it's best to go slow. "There's nobody saying 'let's do this thing in May,' " said one Conservative official involved in the process.

That change of heart among some Conservatives owes, in some measure, to a desire to complete postmortems on their defeat, and for a period of open debate about their future after the rigid discipline of the Harper era. (Their party is likely to proceed with a national convention scheduled for next May in Vancouver, which should provide a forum for such discussions as well as for leadership candidates to showcase themselves.)

But it also appears to be a reflection of concern about the field of candidates if the leadership campaign were to be conducted quickly.

To date, the only prospective candidate known to be aggressively organizing is Ontario MP and former labour minister Kellie Leitch – a polarizing figure among Conservatives, in part because she was perceived to be mounting her campaign before the votes were counted on Oct. 19.

Among other former cabinet members said to be at least kicking the tires, Lisa Raitt is well-liked and could conceivably emerge as a consensus candidate, but has limited national profile and is fairly understated as a public performer. Tony Clement is respected for stints as a senior minister federally and provincially, but in a couple of unsuccessful past leadership bids he struggled to make a case for being at the helm. Peter MacKay could emerge as the choice of Red Tories, but that might only make him anathema to more strident conservatives who make up the bulk of the party's base.

In light of this potential slate's perceived limitations, a good number of Conservatives seem to be holding out hope that a longer time-frame might lure Brad Wall into the race.

The Saskatchewan Premier has said publicly he won't seek the leadership, but has also recently fuelled speculation by positioning himself as a sort of unofficial opposition to Justin Trudeau's new government with public posturing on refugee policy and climate-change strategy. There is a belief among some Tories that while Mr. Wall wouldn't leave his provincial party in the lurch before the Saskatchewan election scheduled for April, he might be willing to make a federal move shortly thereafter.

The other potential front-runner who seems reluctant to quickly dive right in is Jason Kenney. Despite common perceptions that he has long been positioning himself as Mr. Harper's successor, and the likelihood that he has the country's best Conservative supporter lists, the word since the election has been that he might happily give it a miss if there were another staunch small-c conservative behind whom he could throw his organizational weight.

Mr. Wall would fit that bill. If the Premier doesn't run, there is a decent chance Mr. Kenney will do so after all. But friends and allies say he was worn down by the time this fall's campaign ended. From his perspective, the more time he has to decide whether he has it in him to lead his party, the better.

For the party as a whole, there is potential downside to giving would-be contenders such a big window. Fundraising and other organizational aspects of preparing for the next campaign will lag until there is a new leader in place. And while there are Tories holding up the Liberals' slow leadership process after the 2011 election as evidence there's no need to rush, their new leader might need more time to introduce himself or herself to the electorate than did Mr. Trudeau.

At the moment, though, there is evidently more concern about giving themselves enough time to choose the right person for the job.

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