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Conservative Party interim Leader Candice Bergen rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Federal Conservatives say they have to move quickly to find a permanent replacement for Erin O’Toole, because the minority government means Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could trigger an early election.

Conservative Party president Robert Batherson said Thursday that an organizing committee, which has not yet been appointed, will make a decision on when to hold an election for a new party leader. The same committee, he said, will determine other rules for the leadership race.

But he noted there are time pressures facing the Official Opposition party. “We know from Justin Trudeau calling an election in a pandemic last year that he can call an election at any time,” Mr. Batherson said.

“So we have to make sure that a new leader is elected in a timely way while balancing the rights of our members to choose the next leader, and give a reasonable time for candidates to prepare and follow all of the rules and procedures when they are set out.”

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs ousted Mr. O’Toole from the party’s top job in a 73 to 45 vote, delivering a rebuke of his brief tenure, which began less than two years ago. The move triggered the party’s third leadership race in seven years. Hours after the removal vote, the caucus elected Candice Bergen, who was Mr. O’Toole’s deputy, as interim leader.

Conservatives face daunting task: finding a unifier to lead a deeply divided party to victory in a deeply divided country

Interim Tory Leader Candice Bergen advocated against asking protesters to leave Ottawa

Erin O’Toole, we hardly knew ye

Mr. Batherson said the party’s national council will meet in the next day or so, and that it will appoint the leadership-election committee later this month. “There’s a lot of interest. A lot of people want to join the committee. It’s an important committee, a demanding committee,” he said.

There is no fixed timeline on which the committee must draw up the rules of the leadership campaign. In 2020, a previous committee launched the race about a month after then-leader Andrew Scheer announced he would resign.

Then, as now, there was a Liberal minority government. The Conservative party planned a five-month leadership campaign, but extended it to seven months after the onset of the pandemic.

The 2020 committee was co-chaired by former deputy leader Lisa Raitt and long-time Conservative Dan Nowlan. Both said Thursday they didn’t expect to be involved this time around.

On Parliament Hill, Conservative MPs were calling for an expedited race.

Mark Strahl, the MP for the British Columbia riding of Chilliwack-Hope, said he hoped the new leader would be in place by mid-September for the fall session of Parliament.

“Due to the minority parliament, we need to get a new leader in front of Canadians, working on their vision, working with our caucus,” he said.

Mr. Strahl, who added that he won’t be running, called for a new leader to unite Conservatives, maintain the base and grow the Conservative coalition.

Asked whether he preferred an outsider or an insider as leader, he said, “I don’t think our membership cares whether they are a member of Parliament or from outside of Ottawa.”

One outsider who has been identified as a possible contender is banking executive Mark Mulroney, the son of former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Tory MP Leslyn Lewis, who placed third in the 2020 leadership race and has considerable support in the social-conservative wing of the party, declined comment when asked in the Commons on Thursday if she would again seek the leadership.

In Brampton, Mayor Patrick Brown, a former MP and one-time leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, ruled out a run on Wednesday. He told a news conference that he is focused on leading his community through the pandemic.

Conservatives are hoping the leadership race will produce a leader who can unite the disparate factions that make up the party’s base. The dissent against Mr. O’Toole began with party members to the right of the political spectrum, who were angry at the party’s pivot to the centre ahead of the 2020 federal election.

On Thursday, Quebec MP Joël Godin told The Globe and Mail he wants to make sure that there is still room for progressive Conservatives, like him, in the party.

Ms. Bergen and Mr. Trudeau had a telephone call on Thursday. A readout released by the interim leader’s office said that Ms. Bergen made it clear that the various tax increases planned by the government will have negative impacts on the daily lives of Canadians. The readout also said the two leaders agreed that ways must be found of resolving the continuing protests in Ottawa.

With a report from Campbell Clark

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