The federal Conservative party has suspended its leadership race as the country is gripped by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In the face of mounting pressure to put a halt to the race, the Conservatives’ Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) decided late Thursday to pause the race, the party confirmed in a post on Twitter.
The leadership convention was set for June 27 in Toronto, but as the coronavirus’s impact on people’s health, everyday life and the economy grew, many Conservatives believed it was untenable for the race to continue.
“With all non-essential businesses now closed in ON and QC including our [headquarters], LEOC now finds that it is no longer possible to meet the deadlines necessary to process memberships and donations, or print, process and count ballots in time for a June 27 announcement,” reads the statement from the party.
Two leadership debates scheduled in April are also cancelled and the deadline for people to sign up as party members is being moved to May 15, according to the statement.
The committee will reassess the situation again on May 1.
Until May 1, all leadership fundraising will be suspended, sources said. The party won’t process donations after Friday and candidates are being asked to refrain from contacting party members until a decision is made on when the race will be held.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Ontario MPs and leadership candidates Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan have both called for the race to be postponed. But Peter MacKay, a former cabinet minister who does not have a seat in the House of Commons, called for it to continue or even be sped up. The fourth candidate in the race, Leslyn Lewis, said the race should go ahead.
Mr. MacKay intensified the pressure Thursday to try and convince the party to stay the course. In the span of six hours, his campaign put out 10 posts on Twitter, half in English and half in French, using a variety of memes and videos to press his point.
“Democracy is calling, will you answer?” read one post with a picture of a rotary phone.
Mr. MacKay also made the rounds on political TV shows, where he was asked to explain why the race should continue while Canadians and Conservative party members are seized by the dramatic consequences of the pandemic.
In an interview with Evan Solomon on CTV, Mr. MacKay said having a permanent leader of the Official Opposition during the crisis is an “essential service." Outgoing leader Andrew Scheer has said he would stay on until a new leader is elected by the party.
When pressed on the pandemic being a reason to stop the campaign, Mr. MacKay replied: "Is it?”
“This is a competition, the competition has been going on for some time now, all the rules have been the same for everyone,” Mr. MacKay said.
The decision to suspend the race comes a day after the cut-off for the final list of contenders. Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, who didn’t meet the fundraising and membership support requirements to stay in the race, had also called for it to be postponed.
Citing the pandemic, Rudy Husny suspended his campaign before the Wednesday cut-off date and Rick Peterson quit the race entirely.
The former candidates took issue with continuing to raise funds while Canadians faced layoffs, the optics of campaigning during the crisis, and other challenges due to the virus.
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