POLITICS

Conservative Leadership Race 2017: Stephen Harper Won't Be Attending Convention, Officials Say

05/11/2017 03:21 EDT | Updated 05/11/2017 04:25 EDT

OTTAWA — Former Conservative party leader and prime minister Stephen Harper is not expected at this month's leadership convention, party officials said Thursday.

Party members will converge in Toronto on May 27 to choose his official replacement, but while interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose is scheduled to speak, the party says Harper is not.

"He's ready to pass the torch," said a party official, who requested anonymity because they hadn't been cleared by the party to disclose Harper's plans.

stephen harper

Former Conservative party leader and prime minister Stephen Harper is not expected at this month's leadership convention, party officials said. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Harper spent 12 years as the inaugural leader of the united Conservative party, winning the 2004 race easily in a three-candidate contest where members were allowed to vote by fax and ballots were counted by hand.

Now the party is preparing for a highly automated vote count process to manage what could be as many as 259,010 ranked ballots, on which voters can make as many as 10 choices out of 13 different candidates.

Over the course of the campaign, Harper has spoken with many of those in the running, offering advice and guidance when asked.

Kevin O'Leary, the celebrity businessman who dropped out of the race last month, called on him several times and has said he valued Harper's input on the regional political dynamics of the country.

Publicly, though, Harper has stayed largely under the radar in Canada, though he's made appearances around the globe in his new role as consultant.

He last appeared before his party's membership at their 2016 policy convention in Vancouver.

"He's ready to pass the torch."

There, he urged them to look forward, not back, and that's what he wants to do as well, said the party official.

"It is not about him, it is about the new leader," the official said.

A spokesperson for Harper did not immediately return a request for comment.

With 13 candidates, the party expects it will take several rounds of counting before the winner is declared.

All the candidates will have a final chance to address the party for 10 minutes the night before, and Ambrose will take the stage on May 27 as the party pays tribute to her temporary time in the leader's chair.

The new leader is expected to take over the reins of the party officially on May 28.

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