Alright, it's already time for a new CPC leadership race! I had a lot of fun covering the 2017 and 2020 ones so I'm pretty excited. Especially because this one looks to attract more high profile candidates -- more likely because everybody in 2017 thought (wrongly) that Trudeau was unbeatable in 2019. As for 2020, MacKay had such a large initial lead that many got scared (wrongly again).

So let's look at who's running and where the race likely stands right. Fair warning, the latter part is heavily speculative at this point since we have very little data at this point. If you already know the candidates, skip to section 2.

1. The candidates

1) Pierre Poilievre.

He was first to announce, very early on. He actually said he was running for Prime Minister, not for CPC leader! The pedantic crowd (the same people who insist on calling a minority a hung Parliament) was quick to point out that in our system, nobody runs for PM (wow wow wow, if this PoliSci degree isn't proving useful!). Personally, I thought it was a fairly smart move as he's making clear that he'll use the same message during the leadership and during the general election (hopefully at least), unlike some former CPC leader...

Poilievre is known as the 'attack dog' of the CPC. He can attack Trudeau non-stop, so the base obviously loves him. His attacks sometimes land effectively but can also just make him look really partisan at times. Many will say he's like Trump but that's wrong. Stop thinking everybody on your right is 'like Trump'. Poilievre is more like Ted Cruz, hyper partisan. If you are terminally online, you either love him or hate him -- not unlike some Liberal leader currently PM!

His critics will argue that he's too caustic and would push away moderate voters, especially women. His partisans will say that the CPC tried the moderate route with O'Toole and literally lost seats in the GTA and GVA. Who is right? My personal opinion is that terminally online people need to stop assuming that everybody is like them and hasn't touched grass in a long time (if you don't get the reference, congrats, it means you are a normie). The polling numbers we got so far (see further below) have not indicated that Poilievre is 'unelectable'. And I maintain that his campaign so far (mostly composed of really polish videos) has been quite good with a positive messages aimed not only at the base (much Freedom! and F*ck Trudeau!) but also at immigrants and First Nations. I might be wrong here but I have so far seen someone with a wide range (something O'Toole definitely didn't have) and who knows what message he wants to sell. His main challenge is that he does appear off putting to many moderates, at least among the online crowd. It's not so much his policies (he isn't a SoCons for instance) but his style.

He is, without a doubt, the favorite at this point. He is also bilingual (not perfect but very good), a welcome change from Scheer and O'Toole.

2) Jean Charest

Wow, I didn't think I'd one day have to make projections again for that guy! Can't believe he's back. His name was thrown around in 2020 already but he opted to stay out. What changed his mind this time around? Maybe the fact that 2024 looks a lot more winnable for the CPC with the Trudeau fatigue? Maybe it's the fact many Tory MPs from Quebec went to beg him to run (I get the feeling many in the Quebec caucus don't like Poilievre).

Charest is a formidable politicians who has a history of successes. With that said, his tenure as Quebec Premier ended quite badly and many in the province still hate him. People also seem to have forgotten that while he won in 2003 and 2008, he suffered pretty bad losses or quasi losses in 2007 and 2012. So his record is far from perfect.

Charest, who is announcing his candidacy today in Calgary (hey, he ahs to convince the base he's not a Liberal!), will base his entire campaign on his winning record. He will need to convince the CPC membership (who is significantly more right wing than the country or even the CPC voters) that they need a moderate/centrist candidate to win those centrist voters. He's the favorite of many so-called Red Tories on Twitter. On paper he makes a lot of sense. He is indeed moderate (although he is definitely a conservative. Don't be an idiot thinking he's a Liberal because he was the leader of the Quebec Liberals. That party was quite right wing under his leadership, similarly to the BC Liberals) and he's from Quebec, so he could finally allow this party to get more than 10 seats potentially.

I think the reality might be less rosy. First of all, I have been on record arguing that the obsession with the 'moderate voters' was unhealthy. I'm not convinced there are millions of 'Blue Liberals' voters who are waiting for a moderate CP leader to jump ship. I think 2021 showed that the suburban so-called moderates are quite satisfied with Trudeau. It is of course possible that O'Toole's strategy was well intentioned but badly executed (like having a ridiculous 'carbon rewards' that satisfied neither the pro carbon tax liberal swing voters or the anti tax conservatives) and the environment (Covid) was hostile. So a better leader with a better campaign could maybe pull it off and finally turn a lot of the GTA blue. I'm doubtful because the only time the GTA really went CPC was in 2011 under extraordinary circumstances that aren't likely to repeat any time soon. I also believe that the CPC has other paths to power, including winning more rural ridings in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Northern Ontario and Northern BC. Still, 2024 could be perfect for a moderate CPC leader to offer an option to dissatisfied Liberal voters. I'm not convinced Charest is the best for that role though. He has a lot of baggage (he literally worked for Huawei recently!) and is straight up hated by many in the CPC (including Stephen Harper who hasn't forgotten how antagonistic Charest was to him while he was Premier and blocked his candidacy in 2020). If you ask me, a Charest wins would lead to multiple MPs leaving the CPC. To be fair, a Poilievre wins would likely mean a few Quebec MPs would leave as well.

I'll, however, give Charest credit for his decisions so far. He has explicitly been friendly to the SoCons (Social Conservatives), a smart move compared to MacKay who went straight up against them in 2020 and paid the price (he got almost no second ballot support). 

3) Leslyn Lewis

She came out of nowhere in 2020 and almost won. Yes she really did. She finished 3rd in points (the CPC leadership awards 100 points to each riding no matter how many members vote in it, unless it's fewer than 100 votes in which case the number of points is equal to the number of votes. So it's possible to get more votes but fewer points if your vote is inefficient) but 1st in votes after the 2nd round. She wasn't far from qualifying for the final round and my calculations show that she likely would have beaten MacKay (it's less clear if she'd have beaten O'Toole as the MacKay voters would likely have switched to O'Toole according to the data and my calculations).

She is a social conservative and not ashamed of it at all. She didn't speak a word of French in 2020 and that ultimately cost her the leadership (she finished 4th in Quebec with only 10%). I'm not sure how much she has improved since. She is now a MP (from Ontario) but I get the feeling her rising star has somewhat faded. It's not clear if she can replicate the 'lighting in a bottle' of her 2020 campaign.

If she can though, she has legitimate chances. She will likely be the only SoCons and that represents a good 20-30% of the membership. If the other factions (like Blue Tories/Harper Conservatives and the pragmatic/moderate conservatives) are divided enough and she manages to be ahead of Poilievre after the 2nd or 3rd round, I could totally see her winning the whole thing.

Would the CPC have any chances with her as leader? Many people will say no. I honestly don't know. She'd be a very unique leader and I'm not sure what would happen. I'm not saying she would likely win, I'm just saying I can't exclude some surprises. She could maybe attract more of the socially conservative immigrants in the suburbs. She is such a wild card that it's hard to predict what would happen.

4) Patrick Brown

He hasn't announced yet but is supposed to do this Sunday. He's the mayor of Brampton and was the former Ontario PC leader (and cruising towards victory) in 2018 when he got (wrongly, seemingly) accused of sexual misconduct. He had to resign and Ford won the leadership and became Premier (the 2018 Ontario election was such that I believe literally any PC leader would have won it, although I have to give Ford credit for his unique appeal to the GTA voters). He is known to be a terrific organizer and can sign a ton of people (he did when he became the surprise PC leader in 2015). He is clearly a moderate (his haters will straight up say he's not conservative). He has been quite good the last few months on Twitter and in the media. He is very opposed to Bill 21 in Quebec and, if he were to become leader, I'm not sure how the Quebec caucus could remain as Brown would publicly oppose and fight Bill 21.

I personally think he's the best option for the moderate/Red Tories members, much better than Charest. Rumors of a deal between them are already out there, although they both denied it. If the CPC is looking for a fresh start with a moderate, he is likely their best guy. As mentioned before, Charest has problems and MacKay doesn't look like he's running. Short of someone like Rona Ambrose running, I see Brown as the frontrunners among the moderates. I know the poll below doesn't show this but it's early.

5) Roman Baber

An Ontario MPP who was kicked out of the PC caucus for his objection to the lockdown measures. I honestly don't know much about him. He seems to be a wild card and will likely try to get the vote from the anti lockdown/muh Freedom crowd. I don't see a scenario where he wins right now but it'll be interesting to see whether he causes Poilievre some troubles by stealing some of his target audience.

Sorry, I wish I could say more but I don't know the guy well enough.

2. The state of the race

As mentioned before, it's very early. But here's the data we have.

First, we got a new poll from Leger this morning. Polls will obviously be imprecise as they usually can't sample from the membership directly. Still, past leadership races have shown that general polling (among CPC voters) was still indicative of the general trend. I'll use better data (such as fundraising) when comes down the time to make projections, a technique that has proven quite successful in the past). Here's the main graph from this poll:

It's not even close as Poilievre is clearly ahead. Not very surprising. His announcement video got over 2 millions views. His lead here is very significant. We don't have the full pdf at the time of writing this post. The article of the Journal mentions that Poilievre leads everywhere west of Quebec while Charest is ahead in the Atlantic and Quebec.

I'm a little bit surprised by the numbers for Lewis here. It might be because the sample is CPC voters, not members. Also, the MacKay votes should likely be added to Charest and Brown. Notice as well the high number of "I don't know". All in all, not the most precise measure.

The voting intentions (very hypothetical) also show that Charest wouldn't be the slam dunk many thought. At the same time, I think that we are living in such a set, polarized political world (half of the Liberals voters are TruAnon who will support Trudeau no matter what while half of the CPC members suffer from Trudeau's derangement syndrome) that we shouldn't expect massive swing just because of the new leader.

The CPC under Poilievre is at 30% and at 28% under Charest.

Abacus has shown that many don't actually know either of Poilievre or Charest (again, not everybody is terminally online).

So, as it stands, Poilievre is the clear favorite. He is liked (loved!) by the base and has many supports among the caucus (including the recent endorsement of Scheer which is significant). If the vote was tomorrow, I'm sure Poilievre would win easily.

Can someone beat him? After all, both the 2017 and 2020 races ended up with the early favorite losing.

Okay let's run some scenarios. The first way Poilievre could lose is if Lewis wins. As I said previously, she was actually quite close in 2020. SoCons representing 20-30% of the vote (own calculations but in line with a poll by Mainstreet in 2020 among the members), she is guarantee a good showing in the first round. If Charest and Brown can split enough of the pragmatic/moderate voters (Mainstreet had them at 45% in 2020, I would personally put that number around 30% currently) away from Poilievre (leaving him with the Blue Tories/Harper Conservatives only (about 30% of the members), we could have her ahead of Poilievre after 2-3 rounds. For this to happen however, one of Charest/Brown would likely need to drop or finish further down (and therefore be eliminated already). If you want numbers, here's a scenario

1st round:

Poilievre 30%

Lewis 25%

Brown 20%

Charest 15%

Others 10%

Others mostly go to Lewis, Charest is dropped and his voters mostly go to Brown. After the 3rd round, the situation is the following:

Brown 34%

Lewis 34%

Poilievre 32%

Then Poilievre is out, his voters likely elect Lewis as leader.

The other scenario is where the moderate/centrist candidates sign a lot of new members and expand the base. Some articles have mentioned how Charest (or Brown) likely need to 'replace' the current CPC members by signing up 200-300k new members. This would be like a hostile takeover of the CPC by the former PC wing. Is it realistic? Well, the CPC had 259k members in 2017 and 270k in 2020. So one or two candidates literally doubling this? I have my doubts but everybody is telling me to watch out for Brown. What I agree with, however, is that a Brown/Charest win will come with signing many new members. The 2020 membership base of the party would just guarantee a Poilievre win. Basically I think Poilievre would take the O'Toole votes (True, true blue baby!) while Charest would replace MacKay but do worse (less goodwill with the CPC membership).

Speaking of which, surely he should be able to sweep Quebec and this province is really rich in points (although less so than in 2020 but the impact is exaggerated by many online). Well look at the Quebec numbers from Abacus:

That doesn't look good for Charest. Let's also remember that simply being from Quebec doesn't guarantee much. Bernier actually lost Quebec to Scheer! The points system can create weird results but the fact remains that many Conservative members in Quebec are likely closer to Eric Duhaime (ex radio pundit and leader of the new Conservative party provincially, a party that has risen in the last few months thanks to its strong opposition to the Covid measures) and the American right than to Charest. So while Charest should have the edge, I'm not sure it'll be the case in reality. Charest has also said he was opposed to Bill 21 so that's already a serious handicap in winning over Quebec conservative voters! Evan Scrimshaw said Charest was like Canada's Jeb Bush and I think he might be right.

Don't get me wrong, there is a path for Charest but it's a narrow one.

3. Who can beat Trudeau?

Isn't this ultimately the real question the CPC members should ask themselves? Sure, but the base can be dogmatic at times and the O'Toole experiment with his centrist approach (and lack of results) has left many dissatisfied and they would rather elect a 'true conservative' (even though O'Toole did improve things, just not enough to win seats). As Andrew Coyne said, you can betray the principles/dogma and win or lose while respecting them. What you can't do however is betray the base and lose, which is what O'Toole did.

If you spend all your time reading the opinion of professional pundits, you likely read that the CPC needs a centrist like Charest/Brown in order to win the GTA voters. As I've said previously, I see the logic on paper and 2024 might indeed be the right election, but I also think this is a strategy that the CPC has tried multiple times and failed. For them to win the GTA, they need the Liberals to be incredibly unpopular and the NDP to split the vote. The party of Jagmeet Singh is pretty useless at this right now. It's a woke urban party that somehow wins zero seats in Toronto (for 3 elections in a row!) and actually win seats in rural regions like Northern Ontario and BC.

We have observed a re-alignment worldwide where urban and suburban voters have moved left while rural voters have moved right. The NDP is only winning Norther Ontario because the NDP used to be the working class party (unions, etc). It's less and less the case. Similarly to what we saw in the US where Trump lost support for the GOP among the affluent suburbs but made massive gains with the non-college educated, working class rural voters, I believe the path to power for the CPC is more through a sweep of rural riding than through an unlikely GTA breakthrough. And to achieve this, a more populist approach is necessary. That's definitely not Charest.

Let's be clear here, my opinion on this issue is a little bit controversial. But 2021 changed my mind as the Liberal vote in urban and suburban ridings is just too efficient. I'm not saying the centrist/moderate approach can't work, I'm just saying the CPC should maybe make sure not to lose more voters to the PPC. Below is the map of the seats the CPC lost by a margin inferior to the PPC's share of votes (Credit to @CaelemSG).

Yes I know that it's incorrect to assume that 100% of the PPC voters would have voted CPC (many PPC voters were actually former Green voters!) but there is a pattern here. The split with the PPC is costing the CPC seats exactly where it should make gains. The rust bell in Ontario, Northern Ontario and BC. The CPC should logically win those seats in the future thanks to the re-alignment. Add those 21 to the 119 and the CPC is at 140. Then add some gains in Atlantic and rural Quebec and that could be enough for a minority without massive gains in the GTA or GVA! For those two regions, having a leader that go and speak with visible minorities and immigrants (something O'Toole didn't really do) could go a long way.

The Leger poll of this morning showed one clear difference in the voting intentions between Poilievre and Charest: the PPC is much lower if Poilievre is the leader. If the CPC wants to go with a more populist, anti-elite, working class approach (which I believe is the key to success), Poilievre makes a lot more sense. If they want to go with a centrist approach and try to finally win through the GTA, then Brown is likely your guy. Charest, in my opinion, fits neither option very well.

For another take on this race (and the difficult path for Charest) and the path to power for a candidate like Poilievre, read this piece from John Ivison this morning.