The crowds turning out for rallies held by Pierre Poilievre as he seeks the federal Conservative leadership are not crucial to winning the race, say rival camps, who insist there are less flashy ways to gather the support required for victory.
Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner said other past Conservative leadership candidates, such as Kevin O’Leary and Peter MacKay, have drawn big crowds without actually winning. Ms. Rempel Garner is the national campaign co-chair for Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont.
“It takes a lot of effort and resources to plan rallies,” Ms. Rempel Garner said in an interview. “Those are great things. We have been spending 100 per cent of our time selling memberships. … It’s going very well.”
She declined to provide the number of memberships the Brown camp has sold.
The candidates seeking to replace Erin O’Toole as Conservative leader have until June 3 to build a pool of supporters who could tilt the race in their favour. The new leader will be announced on Sept. 10.
Mr. Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP and former Conservative finance critic, has been drawing sizable crowds as he makes promises that include turning Canada into “the freest nation on Earth.”
As he began his first campaign trip to British Columbia on Thursday, about 1,000 people showed up for a rally in Vancouver. That follows rallies that drew 1,000 in the southeastern Ontario community of Lindsay, and hundreds at rallies in Ottawa and Windsor.
After Vancouver, Mr. Poilievre has events scheduled in Prince George, Kelowna, Vernon and Langley. He will then make a stop in Calgary on April. 12.
Rallies in support of Mr. Poilievre clearly stand out in the race, whose other participants include former Quebec premier Jean Charest, MPs Leslyn Lewis, Scott Aitchison, Marc Dalton and former Tory MP Leona Alleslev.
Adam Chambers, the Conservative MP for Simcoe North, recalled introducing Mr. Poilievre last month at a rally in Toronto that he said featured about 700 people. But, Mr. Chambers said, it takes work to make the big numbers count.
“You can sell out Scotiabank Arena but if you don’t sell memberships it will not help win the nomination. There has to be a conversion from people who are interested in the candidate to buying memberships,” he said in an interview.
“From what I saw, I would say, yes, there was a lot of conversion activity happening.”
Mr. Poilievre’s campaign declined comment on the impact of the crowds on the race.
A spokesperson for Mr. Charest said they are more focused on direct membership engagement and sales, rather than crowd counts.
“We feel confident because our campaign, between the candidate and our team of organizers and volunteers, talks to members every day and the response has been very encouraging and positive,” said Michelle Coates Mather, Charest campaign communications director, in a statement.
Steve Outhouse, campaign manager for Ms. Lewis, said in a statement that the campaign has been having “great attendance” at Ms. Lewis’s events, but is also encouraged to see high engagement across campaigns because that bodes well for Conservative fortunes in the next election.
Ms. Alleslev, asked about the Poilievre rallies, said on Parliament Hill Wednesday that those who have been supportive of her campaign “may or may not be the people who want to go out to rallies.”
Conservative commentator Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data, said Mr. Poilievre is skilled at targeting and delivering an audience.
“He’s using data he has had as a Conservative parliamentarian and through his YouTube channel and other social-media platforms,” said Mr. Powers. “He’s appealing to different people in different parts of the country to show up at a certain time and participate.”
Mr. Powers expressed amusement at the disdain campaigns were showing for crowd counts.
“Are you telling me that if Patrick [Brown] did a rally and had 2,000 people out there, they wouldn’t put it up? You know they would.”
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