How Jean Charest Can Win The Conservative Leadership Race

By: Gillian Davis

Published On: 2022-06-10

CPC Leadership Point System

“During the Chretien-Martin years (1993 – 2006), Liberals were given somewhat of a freeride politically as the right-of-centre parties had fractured and were in disarray with the rise of the Reform Party and the unpopularity of the Progressive Conservative Party after the Mulroney years (1984 – 1993).

A Unite the Right movement began in 1996 and culminated in 2003 under the leadership of Stephen Harper, one of the founding members of the Reform Party and signatory of the infamous ‘Firewall Letter’ (an open letter to Ralph Klien regarding another flare up of Western alienation). 

There was much controversy and disagreements between the Federal Progressive Conservative Party under Peter Mackay and the Reform Party under Stephen Harper, however they did realize that they would never be able to win a general election without uniting. 

After many machinations and negotiations, the new Conservative Party of Canada was formed but not until Progressive Conservative leader, Peter MacKay secured a weighted ballot system for voting within the party. 

The voting system within the Conservative Party of Canada is set up as follows; each Electoral District Association (EDA) correlates to each of the ridings and therefore seats in the House of Commons and is given 100 points regardless of how many members are in that EDA.  What this means is that one member does not equal one vote.  Further, it means that the west is once again marginalized as small membership EDAs in the East have more power per vote than those large member EDAs in the west. 

In practice it works like this – say you have two leadership candidates, CA and CB.  The race comes down to three ridings – Calgary – Nose Hill, York Centre and Gatineau.  Nose Hill has 10,000 members, York has 50 and Gatineau has 5, which isn’t far from the truth in Canada today.  Nose Hill’s 10,000 members all vote CA, but York and Gatineau’s combined 55 members all like CB – who wins?  In this case the 55 members outvote the 10,000 all because of the way the votes are weighted, giving CB the win. 

Peter MacKay said of this system that “the Maritimes, Quebec and Nunavut need to have a voice.” “ (excerpt from WEXIT: The Reluctant Rebellion by Gillian Davis)

The Ranked Ballot System

There have been some recent developments in the CPC election rules since Wexit: The Reluctant Rebellion was published.  The membership still uses a ranked ballot system which means that they will rank each of the six candidates who are running in order of preference.  The rules regarding the 100 points have been adjusted so that the full 100 points are contingent on the individual riding having 100 members.  Therefore, in the description above it would take two ridings with 100 full points each – so 200 members voting for CB to outvote Nosehill’s 10,000 (I am using easy numbers for the sake of example).  This is why there has been a massive push for membership sales in this leadership election.  This is also why Charest could win using strategic membership sales which translate into points. 

Here’s how it works; when the membership votes in the leadership race they rank each candidate in order of preference from one to six.  A winner is chosen when a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the points.  If that doesn’t happen when the ballots are first counted, the candidate who receives the lowest number of points will be eliminated.  Whichever candidate was listed second choice on the eliminated candidate ballots, gets those points when all the ballots are counted for a second time – as if the eliminated candidate never ran.  This is why it’s just as important to be a members second and third choice on their ballot – some would say this is how Erin O’Toole won the last leadership; he was many people’s second or third choice.

There are 338 EDAs across Canada which translates into ridings/seats.  This gives every riding, now with at least 100 Conservative Party Memberships an equal say in who will be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.  According to party rules, candidates are assigned a point total depending  on their percentage of the vote in each riding.  Even with the new rule, it still means that if a candidate focuses on low membership ridings, he can win in the final count.

Charest’s Strategy

In the latest e-out from the Jean Charest camp, National Campaign Manager, Chris Rougier states:

Jean Charest has a confirmed path to victory!

Upon review of our internals, we can confirm that our strategy from the outset is on track. Jean has the points he needs to win the leadership race!

We knew from the beginning that a points-centric strategy was critical to winning the leadership.

To ensure that our next leader can represent all regions of the country, the Conservative Party of Canada treats every riding equally through a 100-point system during a leadership race.

The campaign outperformed membership targets in Atlantic Canada, Vancouver, Calgary, rural New Brunswick, urban Ontario, and Quebec.

These key areas for vote growth deliver the most impact on the 100 points per riding system.”

He further contends that “Our campaign focused on signing up new and lapsed members across all regions and we did that in critical, high-value areas where our Party needs to grow support. We are the only campaign that has taken this approach, and we now have what we need to win.” (emphasis mine).

For some with long memories, this statement harkens back to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau days of “Screw the West, we’ll take the rest.”  So, can Charest win by manipulating the conservative “points” system?  Potentially. 

Currently there are 338 ridings/EDAs across Canada with 2/3rds of them distributed in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario.  These ridings are traditionally Liberal leaning parts of the country and despite historically low conservative memberships, they hold approximately 22,533 points out of the 33,800 total points available.  They hold the balance of power.  Seeking out these low member yet high value EDAs and catering to their local interests means that a popular Conservative politician like Pierre Poilievre, who sold record smashing memberships, could still lose if those memberships were not in strategic locations.  If, for example, all his memberships were sold in the west and contending that each of those memberships s relate directly to member votes – he would still only receive 1/3rd of possible points, and if Charest locks in all of the ridings in the East/Central EDAs, Poilievre would still wind up losing the contest. 

Understanding that the CPC leadership can be won through strategic means confirms that if Charest is focusing his campaign in traditionally low member Eastern ridings…he just might win. 

The other leadership candidate that seems to be playing this game is Patrick Brown who skipped the Manning Freedom Conference leader’s debate in favour of campaigning in the Maritime provinces.  He announced that he gained over 150,000 memberships across Canada.  His performance during the English debate in Edmonton was directed primarily toward an East/Central voter base which would suggest he’s using this tactic. 

Pierre Poilievre, smashing records with more than 310,000 memberships sold, still seems like the favourite to win, but again, did those memberships come primarily from the west?  If so, does he have enough in the East and central Canada to secure his victory?  The question hangs in the air.  This race that seemed so open and shut just got a lot more interesting, or frightening, depending on your perspective.

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