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Peter MacKay addresses the crowd at a federal Conservative leadership forum during the annual general meeting of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party in Halifax on Saturday, February 8, 2020. Wednesday marks the deadline for contenders to enter the race, with the election currently scheduled for June 27.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay says an election for party leader should be held as soon as logistically possible.

MacKay, a former cabinet minister and early front-runner in the contest, said Monday the party needs a permanent leader sooner rather than later.

Wednesday marks the deadline for contenders to enter the race, with the election currently scheduled for June 27.

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MacKay’s call for a shortened campaign comes after two other candidates on the ballot have called for the contest to be postponed.

Both Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan have said the race should be delayed due to the need to focus on COVID-19 response.

The fourth candidate on the ballot, Leslyn Lewis, has said the timelines should remain as they are.

By Wednesday, contenders have to submit $300,000 to the party and 3,000 signatures.

Candidate Rick Peterson has already dropped out of the contest, citing an inability to raise funds and sign up members during a national crisis. Another, Rudy Husny, suspended his campaign for the same reasons, though has not officially dropped out.

A third, Marilyn Gladu, has said she’s still trying to meet the cut-off but also agrees the contest should be postponed.

In addition to Wednesday’s deadline, people seeking to vote in the contest must become party members by April 17.

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But MacKay thinks that deadline should be moved up as well.

“For the sake of the country, effective checks and balances on government, support for good public policy and healthy debate of important decisions, the race should be shortened, not lengthened,” he said in an e-mail to supporters sent Monday.

The party has remained steadfast in its assertion that the contest can proceed as scheduled, though it continues to monitor the situation.

Party officials have said since the contest allows for mail-in ballots, as long as those remain feasible, there is no reason the vote can’t take place.

Canada Post began to signal Monday, however, that its operations are being affected by the distancing measures mandated to stop the spread of the virus.

Canada Post is reducing hours of service, and some outlets may be closing altogether.

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MacKay said he’ll respect whatever decision the party makes on the contest, but believes party members should be given an opportunity for a speedy vote so the Conservatives can play an effective role in the House of Commons.

“The Conservative Party of Canada must elect a new permanent leader as quickly as possible so our Parliamentary democracy can function as constitutionally intended,” he said.

“This is in the best interests of Canadians.”

Outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer had said in December he’d step down as soon as his replacement was chosen.

At the time, he’d been facing weeks of sustained criticism over his performance during the fall election campaign, as well as questions about how he was spending party money, and said he no longer had the heart to continue with the job.

He has declined to comment on whether he thinks the leadership election should be postponed.

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