HAMILTON — Senior Conservative politicians and campaign workers are bracing for electoral defeat on Monday and the ensuing party turmoil, with some activists beginning to take a closer look at the mechanics of a future leadership race.
Several high-level Conservative activists and politicians who spoke to The Canadian Press over the past two days said spirits are low inside the party, particularly in Ontario where Liberal numbers have surged.
They talk bleakly about entire swaths of Ontario returning to the Liberals, and that antipathy towards Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and the public's desire for change has been hard to rebut.
Still, some Tories hold out for the "what ifs" — what if there is a resilient pocket of Conservative support that will turn out, particularly if they are able to effectively get out the vote on Monday? They point to polling numbers tightening up this weekend — what if the Liberal momentum has ground to a halt?
"I think it's going to be an incredibly close campaign," said one senior Conservative, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
"I think the Conservatives are going to come away with a small minority despite their best efforts. It could range anywhere from a big Liberal minority to a big Conservative minority, but looks like a small Conservative minority."
With at least the possibility of defeat on the radar, some insiders are preparing for what happens after the leader resigns. The party hasn't had a leadership race since its first one in 2004 after the merger between the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties, and so the rules of the game have largely just sat on the shelf.
"The party needs to prepare for all outcomes, including if the leader is no longer the leader on Monday," said another influential Conservative.
Should Harper step down, the party will immediately need to reschedule its party convention, currently slated for May in Vancouver. The Conservative governing body, the national council, will need to appoint a "leadership election organizing committee," and whoever is the caucus chair will immediately need to convene a meeting of MPs to select an interim leader.
At that point, there is likely to be some jockeying for influence in the party, since the leadership committee will have the power to shape the rules and procedures of the race.
Whether or not Harper resigns, there will almost certainly be a frank analysis of the campaign's shortcomings, and whether it was mishandled by the Conservative war room.
There are a wide range of complaints, from ineffective advertising to poor training for local organizers.
"This won't be like the Liberals in 2004, when they felt they won the election (with the minority)," said one Conservative.
"You might win the government, but you've lost the campaign."
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