The Conservative Party’s national council, which will oversee the coming Tory leadership review, has rejected an effort for it to stay neutral about Andrew Scheer’s future.
As well, Nick Kouvalis, a prominent Ontario-based conservative strategist who has led several successful election campaigns, has been hired by the party to conduct public opinion polling on Mr. Scheer’s viability as leader, as well as the party’s future, a source says. The Globe and Mail is keeping their name confidential because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Mr. Scheer faces vocal opposition to his leadership from multiple regional and ideological factions within the party. After losing the October election, which the Conservatives expected to win, Mr. Scheer must go through an automatic leadership review at the party’s April convention.
On the weekend, the party’s national council – a volunteer body that oversees the party’s governance – held a three-day meeting that included debate about whether members of the council should remain neutral during Mr. Scheer’s leadership review.
Members of the council defeated the motion that they stay neutral, even though they are bound by party rules to remain neutral in other votes, including during leadership races and candidate nominations.
Scott Lamb, a B.C.-based lawyer and president of the council, said in an interview Wednesday that neutrality was not required because unlike leadership races this is "just a simple ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ vote at the convention.”
Bert Chen, a finance and development professional in Ottawa, introduced the motion. He said he believes the absence of the neutrality requirement in the council’s code of conduct is an oversight.
“If we’re the ones planning the vote, we should be neutral. We’re the referees of it,” Mr. Chen said.
Mr. Lamb said he is neutral and each council member will be able to make their position on Mr. Scheer’s leadership public. He called Mr. Chen’s assertion that council’s lack of neutrality could raise questions around the vote’s fairness “ridiculous.”
“The vote stands,” Mr. Lamb said.
Mr. Chen, who was elected to council at the party’s 2018 convention, said he quit the council during the meeting, and before the motion was voted on, because he was frustrated by the process. He said his resignation was not directly related to that particular motion.
The decision to allow council members to pick sides in the leadership review comes as the party is conducting a full-scale analysis of what went wrong in the 2019 campaign. As part of that, a source with direct knowledge of the arrangement says Mr. Kouvalis and his company were hired to test the waters for Mr. Scheer and look at his long-term prospects as leader as well as those of the party.
Mr. Kouvalis declined to comment about his firm’s clients.
“Campaign Research Inc. does not disclose, confirm, or deny the existence of any matter relating to who its clients may or may not be,” Mr. Kouvalis said in a text.
He has helped everyone from former B.C. premier Christy Clark to Toronto mayors Rob Ford and John Tory get elected. He also ran the leadership campaign for one of Mr. Scheer’s opponents in 2017, Kellie Leitch.
The party said it doesn’t comment on who it does business with. But a party source said they would characterize Mr. Kouvalis’s work differently. The Globe is not identifying the source’s name because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal party matters. The source said Mr. Kouvalis is looking into all aspects of the 2019 campaign based on his own experience as a campaign manager.
In recent days, Mr. Kouvalis has sent texts to Conservatives asking them about Mr. Scheer’s future. In one text obtained by The Globe, Mr. Kouvalis said that he thinks Mr. Scheer should remain at the party’s helm.
Asked about the texts, Mr. Kouvalis told The Globe: “I support the leader. Full stop. I support Andrew Scheer.”
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