Pierre Poilievre’s campaign to lead the federal Conservatives has shaken up the race, saying it has signed up more than 300,000 new members, but his rivals insist that the battle to succeed former leader Erin O’Toole is far from over.
Jenni Byrne, senior adviser to the Ottawa-area MP, said his camp had signed up 311,958 new members before a Friday night deadline. In the 2020 leadership race, all four Conservative candidates recruited more than 269,000 people in total, which was a record for the party.
Patrick Brown, the only other candidate in this race to release specific figures, said his campaign signed up 150,000 members. Mr. Brown is mayor of Brampton, Ont., and a former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
The campaign of onetime Quebec premier Jean Charest has declined to release specific sign-up numbers. On Saturday, Mr. Charest’s team said it remained “very confident” in its strategy. “We are in a good position to win the 78 ridings in Quebec,” director of communications Michelle Coates-Mather said, noting that those ridings make up about one quarter of the total points available in the race.
On Sunday, Mr. Charest tweeted: “I’ve never been more determined than I am today. We have a clear path to victory all because of the tremendous support of our volunteers and activists.”
Party President Robert Batherson said neither he nor other party officials would be commenting on any membership numbers, but that the party was poised to pass a milestone in Canadian politics.
“The Conservative Party of Canada will set a record for the largest number of paid members of any political party in Canadian history,” Mr. Batherson said in a statement.
He said party staff are working to process and verify all membership applications and provide a preliminary membership list for the six campaigns to review and challenge, if they choose, with the chief returning officer. After these steps are acted on, a voters list will be delivered to the campaigns and a final, accurate membership number announced, he said.
The other candidates in the race, which culminates with a leadership vote on Sept. 10, are MPs Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison and former Ontario MPP Roman Baber.
Ms. Lewis’s campaign has signed on more new members than in the past race in 2020, where she came third, her campaign manager said, and many of her supporters still have memberships purchased then.
“We are very confident that Leslyn will be competitive in the race and has a path to victory,” Steve Outhouse said in a statement issued on Sunday.
He added that the campaign last week asked the party to generate an updated list of memberships processed since the last update in late April but that the idea was opposed by Mr. Poilievre’s campaign.
Mr. Outhouse noted that the race will be decided by the Conservative grassroots, and there are three months for a candidate to earn their votes.
In a statement to The Globe, Ms. Byrne said Mr. Poilievre never opposed the release of the full membership list but rather a partial list that wouldn’t include all of the people signed up by all campaigns.
“In the spirit of full transparency,” she said Mr. Poilievre’s campaign was calling on the other candidates to authorize the party to release the membership recruitment numbers from each campaign.
Mr. Baber said, in a statement, that he is pleased with his campaign’s membership sales, and optimistic for the final phase of the race.
Mr. Aitchison’s campaign manager, Jamie Ellerton, said the candidate will continue with his campaign while the party headquarters works to complete membership numbers.
Friday night’s end to the membership drive marks a turning point in the race, with candidates now focusing on swaying other camps and ensuring that their members follow through and vote.
An internal campaign document, obtained by The Globe and Mail, shows that Mr. Poilievre is not just popular in the Conservative heartland in the Prairies, but has also recruited a significant number of members across the country, including in the key Ontario and Quebec battlegrounds.
In Ontario, with 120 ridings, Mr. Poilievre’s campaign recruited 118,996 new members, the document shows. In Quebec, with 78 ridings, the team signed up 25,453 new Conservatives. And in British Columbia, with 42 ridings, it signed up 50,709 members.
In Alberta, Mr. Poilievre recruited 71,759 members, the document shows. In Saskatchewan, he signed up 15,333 people and in Manitoba, it was 12,363.
The Ontario MP also recruited 6,411 members in Nova Scotia, 6,210 in New Brunswick, 2,582 in Newfoundland and Labrador and 1,322 in PEI, the document says.
In the territories, Mr. Poilievre recruited 818 new Conservative members, according to the document.
The Conservatives elect leaders based on a ranked ballot and proportional representation. The party assigns up to 100 points to candidates for each federal riding based on the candidate’s popular vote in any given riding. The system means that in addition to geographic spread, it’s also important to increase sales in low membership ridings.
If at least 100 members vote in a riding, the party assigns the riding equal weight in leadership elections.
The internal campaign document says Mr. Poilievre signed up more than 1,000 new members in each of 111 ridings.
The unprecedented numbers in the race create a monumental task for Conservative Party staff who now need to comb through all the new registrants to make sure they are valid and weed out any duplications.
Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis said it will be “a challenge for the party to get twice as many ballots out the door and back in by September.”
The party’s elections are conducted with paper ballots that are submitted exclusively through mail.
In May, Ian Brodie, chair of the Conservative leadership election organizing committee, told The Globe that even with an overwhelming membership number, the party will stick to its Sept. 10 timeline to announce a new leader.
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