The tipping point that led Conservatives to suspend their leadership race on Thursday was the shuttering of the party’s headquarters this week, which compounded existing logistical issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, said a senior official organizing the contest.
Late Thursday night, the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) suspended the race leading to a June 27 vote. The decision came too late for three prospective candidates, who had called for the delay in mid-March, citing barriers to campaigning created by the virus. They were dropped from the final ballot on Wednesday, having failed to meet the minimum requirements to stay in the race.
The committee “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,” the party said in a statement on Friday.
Officials will decide on May 1 when to resume the race. In the meantime, candidates were asked to refrain from campaigning.
Non-essential party staff started working from home last week, but those processing mailed-in membership applications and donations were still working at the headquarters until Tuesday, spokesman Cory Hann said Friday. The office’s closing was triggered by the provincial government’s shut down of all non-essential businesses, which came into effect on Tuesday night.
“The mail started piling up," Dan Nowlan, the co-chair for the LEOC said in an interview Friday. “Believe it or not, there’s still a lot of people who apply for party memberships via mail or send in donations via mail."
Mr. Nowlan said party officials tried to come up with contingency plans, but staff became less confident they could overcome the challenges. By Thursday, it was “obvious that it was going to be very hard” to pull off the race, he said.
The party had limited options for keeping its June 27 voting day because the constitution requires that members have the option to use a mail-in ballot, meaning staff are needed to receive, process and count the votes, Mr. Nowlan said.
Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis are all on the final ballot. Mr. MacKay, who mounted an intense pressure campaign to keep the race on track, said in a statement he respects the party’s decision. Mr. O’Toole said he told his team to “redirect their energies” to their families and community safety. Ms. Lewis said she would stop fundraising and robocalls, but would continue to contact members. Mr. Sloan said the race should be delayed until the fall.
Marilyn Gladu, Rudy Husny and Rick Peterson did not meet the requirements to stay in the race of raising $300,000 and obtaining 3,000 party member signatures by the party’s deadline. Jim Karahalios was disqualified by the party and is suing to be allowed back in the contest.
The decision to delay the race “is too little, too late,” Ms. Gladu said in a statement Friday. “I recognized the problem that our country was facing and advised weeks ago to stop campaigning."
On social media, Conservatives said it was unfair that the three candidates weren’t allowed to stay in the race given the difficult circumstances created by the pandemic. Mr. Nowlan rejected that.
“We didn’t exclude anybody, they just didn’t make the cut," he said. "Given the same rules and the same amount of time as everybody else, they didn’t even come close.”