OTTAWA — Peter MacKay called on the Conservative party Monday to move up its leadership vote, placing him in sharp contrast with other challengers, who have asked for the race to be pushed back amid the novel coronavirus crisis.
In an email to party members, MacKay, who is perceived to be the frontrunner in the race, urged the party to “elect a permanent leader now, not later.
“Some believe our race should be delayed or suspended. I do not.”
A new permanent party leader is needed to ensure “effective checks and balances on government” and “healthy debate of important decisions,” MacKay argued in his email.
For the sake of our country, he wrote, “the race should be shortened, not lengthened.”
“The cutoff to become a voting member of our Party should be moved to be sooner, not later, and a vote should occur as soon as logistically possible.”
Membership cut-off is currently scheduled for April 17. The new leader, selected through a mail-in preferential ballot, will be announced on June 27.
MacKay, a former Nova Scotia MP and cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, does not have a seat in the House of Commons. Parliament will sit for one day Tuesday, but it has been suspended for at least another month while the federal government co-ordinates the country’s national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All Canadians, including politicians, are urged to stay home and self-isolate.
The cutoff to become a voting member of our Party should be moved to be sooner, not later, and a vote should occur as soon as logistically possible.Peter Mackay, in an email to party members
MacKay’s email came less than two hours after Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who is also contesting the leadership, urged the party to postpone the scheduled June 27 vote and asked members to sign his petition to delay the election.
Last week, two other contestants — Rick Peterson and Rudy Husny — bowed out of the race, saying it was impossible to campaign and disrespectful of Canadians, many of whom have lost their jobs and who are preoccupied with making ends meet and caring for their children, to be bothering them to sign nomination forms, buy party memberships and solicit donations.
After they pulled out, Sloan said he agreed with them, saying that campaigning is “almost impossible” with zero opportunity for face-to-face interactions and that it is inappropriate to ask for money during a pandemic.
“[The] public perception of the party is that we are completely tone-deaf in persisting with this leadership campaign; our brand is being damaged,” Sloan wrote.
WATCH: Here’s who’s running to replace Andrew Scheer. Story continues below.
Ontario MP and Conservative leadership hopeful Marilyn Gladu also called earlier this month for the race to be postponed.
“The party should delay the leadership race until the pandemic here is resolved,” she told HuffPost Canada in an email. “A shorter race benefits Peter, but is not in the best interests of the Conservative Party or Canadians.”
Gladu has until Wednesday to complete the party’s nomination process, the hand-over of 3,000 supporting signatures and $300,000.
On Sunday, Erin O’Toole, another Ontario MP and Harper-era cabinet minister, emerged to say that he too agrees the contest should be extended.
In a video posted to social media, O’Toole, who is widely believed to be MacKay’s main challenger, said the country needs to come before politics.
He called on the party to delay the race “to ensure that all time and effort” of Conservative MPs and grassroots members could be “focused on helping our constituents and the needs of our communities in the fight against COVID-19.”
“I’m not leaving the race. In fact, I believe we will win it. But today, I’m proposing we put the needs of our fellow citizens first,” he said in his video.
The Conservative Party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee has repeatedly said it will not change the contest timelines. Lisa Raitt, the co-chair of the group, told CTV Monday that remains the plan. “We are continuously looking at it and we hear what people are saying in terms of the various candidates coming forward and indicating their concerns but our timelines are still our timelines,” she is quoted saying.
In an email Monday, O’Toole repeated that he has instructed his campaign team to use their resources to try to help local communities and those in need rather than his leadership bid. He included a list of charities that could benefit from additional support: Food Banks Canada, Children’s Aid Foundation, Kids Help Phone, Unison Benevolent Fund and the Alzheimer’s Society.
He also noted that in addition to this list there are “thousands of faith-based organizations across Canada doing their part, too.”
O’Toole has begun to court social conservatives, supporters of Sloan and Leslyn Lewis, a Toronto lawyer, who have the backing of Campaign Life Coalition.
MacKay publicly suggested last fall that one of the reasons Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lost the 2019 election was that his anti-abortion and discomfort with same-sex marriage hung around his neck like a “stinking albatross” and derailed the Tories’ campaign.
In an email to HuffPost, MacKay’s spokesman, Jordan Paquet, said that by calling for the contest to be moved up, the campaign was responding to the Liberals’ attempt to shut down the role of the opposition.
Monday, the federal government floated a bill to the opposition asking for the extraordinary ability to tax and spend without parliamentary approval until the end of 2021 — the Liberals have since back-pedalled.
In another email Tuesday morning, MacKay said the party urgently needs a new permanent leader to keep the Liberals accountable and transparent.
“If it requires MPs from all parties to remain in Ottawa throughout this crisis to provide oversight, then that’s what we should do,” MacKay said. “Parliament in the UK remains in session. The legislatures in the US have not shut down.”
MacKay also accused the Liberals of having “continued to fundraise throughout this crisis” — something all political parties have done by accepting funds through donate buttons on their websites.
Members of MacKay’s own team on Monday met to discuss ways to “maximize” the sale of memberships across the country while Parliament is off for five weeks during the pandemic.
WATCH: Peter Mackay on ‘stinking albatross’ comment.