HomePoliticsConservative leadership: Brown says if not him, pick Charest

Conservative leadership: Brown says if not him, pick Charest

Ottawa –

The national co-chair of Patrick Brown’s leadership campaign is the latest member of his team to throw support behind Jean Charest as the best alternative to lead the federal Conservatives.

But whether Brown’s supporters — many of whom appear new to the party — choose to follow suit isn’t necessarily that simple.

“It’s all going to come down to how much work (Brown) and his organizers want to continue to put in this race,” said political strategist Chris Chapin, who previously worked as digital communications adviser in Brown’s office when he was Official Opposition leader in Ontario.

On Tuesday, Charest’s team circulated a statement from former MP John Reynolds, who served as co-chair on Brown’s campaign. He said the ex-Quebec premier was the best choice to unite the party at a time when its divisions within caucus and the broader movement were on full display.

“We have had too much negative publicity lately, so we need to offer Canadians a positive, unified and inclusive Conservative party with a new, time-tested leader,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds didn’t mention Brown by name or the disqualified candidate’s efforts to appeal his ousting from the contest.

But since Brown’s sudden dismissal one week ago, the situation has consumed the attention of the party’s top brass, along with many members and some organizers on other campaigns.

The chair of the committee that ultimately voted in favour of kicking Brown out of the race said it did so on a recommendation from the party’s chief returning officer, based on an allegation that Brown may have violated federal election laws.

A longtime organizer has since come forward as the one who made the allegation, saying Brown was involved in an arrangement that saw a private corporation pay for her work on the campaign.

Since his disqualification, Brown has stated his team did nothing wrong and accused the party of refusing to provide the full details of the incident when first asked to provide an explanation. He has also hired high-profile lawyer Marie Henein to seek an appeal.

But unless Brown is reinstated, what happens to the supporters he signed up as new party members is one of the major outstanding questions in the race.

His campaign said it sold 150,000 memberships, although party headquarters hasn’t validated that figure or any others publicized by the five remaining campaigns.

By comparison, longtime MP Pierre Poilievre has said he sold a whopping 312,000 memberships.

Brown’s strategy in the race had been trying to recruit new members to the party, rather than trying to court favour with existing ones — who, he mused, were more likely to back Poilievre and his populist messages.

He aimed to sign up thousands from the country’s immigrant and newcomer communities by promising to build a more inclusive party. He pitched himself as an ally on specific issues of interest to them, from improving cricket infrastructure to reforming the immigration system.

Because of that strategy, how much of Brown’s vote goes to Charest will depend on whether Brown and his campaign team remain involved in persuading supporters to switch their allegiance to the former Quebec premier, Chapin said.

“These members signed up for Patrick,” said Chapin.

Because Brown ran a campaign that often appeared “at odds” with the party’s position on certain issues — delisting the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist entity in Canada, for example — Chapin said it’s going to be difficult to cajole supporters to back a different candidate who didn’t make such pledges.

“It’s a big leap of faith that you’re asking members to jump to.”

Brown spoke to supporters on a call Monday evening, many of whom a spokesman said were “ground troops” in the campaign to elect him as the replacement for former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

“There was overwhelming support for Charest among the Brown supporters on the call,” Chisholm Pothier said Tuesday.

He said Brown “spoke very highly of Charest,” his former political mentor, and “the people associated with our campaign feel Charest is the best option if Patrick is not reinstated.”

Pothier, however, stopped short of calling Brown’s message an official endorsement.

Party spokesman Yaroslav Baran said as of Tuesday, more than 280,000 ballots had been delivered, with another large batch scheduled to be dropped in the mail by the end of the week.

Although headquarters hasn’t confirmed specific membership sales from each campaign, it has recorded a voting base of more than 670,000 members, more than double what it had for the 2020 leadership race.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2022.



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