The Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills in Ontario says "the more the merrier" when it comes to potential party leadership contenders – except for businessman Kevin O'Leary.
"I think Mr. O'Leary is spending too much time in the United States. Donald Trump may be a political force south of the border, but that kind of politics isn't coming north any time soon," Michael Chong said in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris, which aired Monday morning.
Chong is mulling a run for the Tory top spot. Rona Ambrose is currently interim leader, chosen after Stephen Harper's Conservatives lost the Oct. 19 election to the Liberals. O'Leary said in mid-January he was considering a run for the leadership, after offering $1 million to Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley to step down.
Conservative MP Michael Chong speaks in the House of Commons. (Photo: CP)
Chong welcomed the idea of other high-profile Conservatives, such as Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay and Lisa Raitt, vying to take over the leadership. No candidate has officially confirmed a bid to enter the race, with a new leader slated to be chosen in 2017.
"To me, the more caucus members, the more candidates that put their hat in the ring, the more diverse views we can get, the broader appeal we can have to Canadians," he said. "I think the fact the party has set a longer leadership race, with the vote on May 27 of next year, is encouraging. I think that will attract a lot people to enter this field and I think that's a healthy thing."
Canadians wanted change
Chong was not ready to blame Harper for the Conservatives' election loss.
"I think after 11 years in government, any party in power, any leader will find it very difficult to win another election," he said.
While supporters turned out and voted for the Conservatives, Chong said the party only maintained the same level of support as it won in the 2011 election. There was a seven percentage point jump in the number of voters, which meant those extra bodies at the polls were marking their ballots in favour of another party.
"It's clear the other parties did a better job of expanding the number of people that voted for them," Chong said.
Kevin O'Leary attends the Disney ABC Winter TCA Tour in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo: CP)
That why he says the party needs to change.
"We, as a party, need to reach out and broaden our appeal to those voters who have yet to vote and I think that's an opportunity for the party to renew itself as well," he said, although he declined to give details.
"In terms of specific policies, I think it's premature to talk about that. I think that's what the leadership race will be all about."
'Seriously considering it'
Chong has served as an MP since 2004. The child of immigrant parents — his father was Chinese, his mother was Dutch — he is a first-generation Canadian. He was raised just outside Fergus, Ont., where he still lives with his wife and three sons, William, Alistair and Cameron.
Chong is popular with his constituents — he won his seat with 50.9 per cent of the vote in October's federal election, a seat he has held since he was first elected in 2004.
He said that, along with fellow party members, people who voted for him are also encouraging him to run for the leadership.
"People have told me, who have encouraged me to run, that they're attracted to my candidacy because of the policy ideas I've put forward on issues like democratic reform, on the environment and that they identify with my family story of immigration and of hard work to achieve success in this country," he said. "Those are the things I've heard from Conservatives and constituents that have encouraged me to run, and so I am seriously considering it."
Chong has travelled across Canada to talk to voters, as well as party insiders, about a potential leadership bid. Sometime in the next few months, he said he will sit down with his family and make a decision.
"To me, it's a family decision because of the time and effort involved with the leadership race and at some point in the near future we'll make that decision together," he said.
Time for renewal
Chong acknowledges Canadians have voted for a new generation of politicians — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is 44, the same age as Chong, and is seen as being more connected to younger voters than his predecessors or leaders of the other federal parties.
Chong said it might be time for the Conservatives to look to the younger members to take the reins. The party will make a decision on May 27, 2017.
"I represent a modern Conservative Party that believes in free markets, individual liberty and also believes the government has a role to play when markets fail or when people need help," Chong said.
"To me, I represent the Conservative Party of tomorrow that has a modern, broad appeal and that's one of the things that excites me about the renewal of this party and playing a role in it, whether or not I run in the leadership race."
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