The race to become the third leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has officially started, although many MPs, senators, staffers and members began to get ready as soon as Andrew Scheer failed to beat Justin Trudeau in the Oct. 21 election.
While some potential candidates shot down speculation about a potential bid after Mr. Scheer’s resignation on Thursday or did not respond to requests for comment, others allowed their names to continue to float as potential contenders.
Potential candidates generating buzz include former interim leader Rona Ambrose, former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, former cabinet minister Peter MacKay and Conservative MPs Michael Chong, Erin O’Toole, Michelle Rempel and Gérard Deltell.
Two members of the business community are also sparking interest: RBC Dominion Securities vice-chairman Michael Fortier and Bank of Nova Scotia vice-chairman Mark Mulroney, the son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Ms. Ambrose, who was the interim leader of the Conservative Party after Stephen Harper’s defeat and resignation in 2015, comes from Alberta, is able to speak French and has supporters across the country.
"I hope Rona Ambrose is interested and available. That would be a name that I would throw out immediately as someone who I hope is strongly considering letting her name stand,” former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall said.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford and both his ministers of finance and transportation, Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney, announced through their offices that they would not be running. Former B.C. premier Christy Clark said the leadership race is “not on my radar.”
Many Conservatives agree the next leader needs to be fluent in English and in French. There have been strong calls in the party for a leader who would be more progressive than Mr. Scheer on social issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage.
Conservative Senator Claude Carignan said he hopes the party will pick a leader who is “progressive, open and will stop adopting policies that are designed to protect our base.”
Mr. Wall noted that the most recent election campaign was overshadowed by Mr. Scheer’s inability to move past questions about social conservative issues, which he said is a lesson the party needs to learn as it searches for a new leader.
“When you’re talking about those things, you’re not talking about your message, you’re not being able to effectively make your case as to why the Trudeau government shouldn’t be re-elected,” Mr. Wall said.
Still, groups such as Campaign Life Coalition are advocating for a “strong pro-life and pro-family” candidate.
“We’ve heard from many supporters who were looking for alternatives to the Conservatives or staying home on election days because they were displeased with Andrew Scheer as leader,” Jeff Gunnarson, president of Campaign Life Coalition, said in a statement.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day said the next leader can be a social conservative. (Mr. Day is a former leader of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, which merged with the Progressive Conservative Party in 2003 to form the current Conservative Party.)
“I don’t see anything wrong with that. Most Canadians aren’t bothered by that, as long as they don’t feel that someone’s personal views aren’t being imposed on them or legislated," he said.
Inside the Conservative caucus, there is speculation that Mr. O’Toole, who finished third in the 2017 leadership race, will run again. Mr. O’Toole, who is a lawyer and former member of the Canadian Forces, is the party’s foreign affairs critic.
Mr. Chong, who finished in fifth place in 2017 on a platform that included a carbon-pricing plan, said “we’ll see” when he was asked whether he would run again in this leadership race.
Another potential candidate who has already garnered support in the Conservative caucus is Mr. Lord, who flirted with a bid for the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party in 2002. Some Conservatives feel the timing is better this time around for Mr. Lord, who could not be reached for comment. He is currently the chief executive of health company Medavie.
With reports from James Keller, Justin Giovannetti and Marieke Walsh