In the Conservative Party of Canada leadership contest, Maxime Bernier, a Quebec Member of Parliament (MP), who mixes doctrinaire libertarian economics with a populist appeal, is giving “Shark Tank” TV personality Kevin O’Leary a real run for his money.
And it’s all about money right now. Under Canada’s extremely stringent political donations legislation, big donors are virtually unknown and small donors are where political campaigns either win or lose.
Bernier, a former foreign affairs minister in the previous Conservative government known who was no stranger to controversy, has raised $2 million for his campaign since he announced his intention to run more than a year ago — but he has raised $1 million of that in the last three months, according to figures released Monday by CBC News.
O’Leary only announced his intention to run for the leadership in January so he has had only two months of fundraising. Despite that his campaign says it has signed-up 30,000 new members — another crucial factor in determining who will win the leadership vote, an announcement scheduled for May 27. Members can begin voting as early as April 28.
Bernier’s ascension is coinciding with a determined push by the Conservative party establishment to discredit O’Leary. Last week, former defence minister Jason Kenney dismissed O’Leary as someone who speaks “American English” but can’t speak French. On Sunday, a former top aid to former prime minister Stephen Harper lambasted O’Leary for being the candidate “least able to understand” how to keep the Conservative Party unified. Jenni Byrne, who made the comments, has been linked to the leadership campaign of former veterans affairs minister Erin O’Toole. She has been largely shut out of the party since being widely criticized for co-chairing an ineffective election campaign in 2015 that lost to Justin Trudeau.
But O’Leary refused to remind people of the past or return any jabs at Byrne on Monday, telling The Daily Caller, “While we appreciate that Jenni Byrne is working on the Erin O’Toole campaign, our campaign does not believe in fighting with other conservatives…and is focused on winning the leadership so we can defeat [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau with a united party in 2019.”
Erin O’Toole says Byrne is not working for his campaign. He told The Daily Caller, “It is not true. She has no role on my campaign. The other campaigns know this. She does what she wants and I haven’t even seen or spoken to her in months,” O’Toole said.
The spike in Bernier’s numbers along with the criticism of O’Leary suggests to some observers that the party establishment may be rallying around Bernier and worried about O’Leary.
The real wild card in the race remains Ontario MP Kellie Leitch who has campaigned on a tough “Canadian values” platform that demands new immigrants be tested for their knowledge and belief in basic democratic principles like equality and the rule of law. According to her campaign spokesperson, Leitch continues to raise steady money, bringing in about $500,000 in the first quarter of 2017.