Number of Conservative members surge: party says 675,000 eligible to vote in fall leadership contest

The Conservative Party of Canada has released a preliminary list of members eligible to vote in the party’s September leadership race showing there are now more than twice the number of eligible voters than were in the 2020 contest that crowned Erin O’Toole as leader. 

The preliminary numbers released Thursday indicate there are now roughly 675,000 members eligible to vote for the next Conservative leader, compared with the 269,469 party members that were able to vote last time around. 

“What we have here is really an extraordinary and historic growth of the membership list,” said Ian Brodie, chair of the party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee.

Between February and June the party says roughly 613,000 thousand members signed up, although 45,000 of those are likely party renewals. Still, Brodie says the numbers show Canadians are engaged in the race.

“Campaigns have had an extraordinary reach across this country into the lives of Canadians to engage them in this race,” Brodie said.

The preliminary list will now go to leadership candidates to review. They will have until Monday to request members be removed or added to the list.

Brodie said campaigns will have to substantiate their challenges by providing some valid explanation for why a member should be removed from the list. The basis for a challenge can, for example, include evidence that a member signed up twice, under two addresses. 

Campaigns can also flag members that need to be added to the list if they were purged because they have, for example, the same name as another member.

WATCH | Power Panel: Conservative leadership race membership list released

Power Panel: Conservative leadership race membership list released

19 hours ago

Duration 10:04

Power Panelists Elliot Hughes, James Moore, Brad Lavigne and Emilie Nicolas debate how high membership numbers could affect the Conservative Leadership race.

Campaigns can now use list to shop for votes 

Roughly 6,500 sign-ups have already been flagged as non-compliant, meaning they didn’t follow party or Elections Canada rules.

A party official speaking on background said a majority of the non-compliant sign-ups were dropped because they had been paid for by someone other than the member. The official said the number of non-compliant sign ups is in line with what the party has seen in past leadership races.

The party won’t release information on how many members were signed up through individual campaigns, but a source on background said a majority of members were signed up online, including candidate web sites and the party’s own web portal.

Releasing the preliminary list allows all of the campaigns to phone or email party members to try and bring them over to their side.

Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre, left, and Patrick Brown share an exchange during the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Poilievre’s support for the Freedom Convoy protesters has been a contentious subject in the leadership debates so far. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Brown considering running in Brampton mayoral race

The list may also help Brown decide on his future in the race. He told CBC News on Wednesday that he’s considering a run for re-election in Brampton if it seems he’s going to lose to Conservative Leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre in September.

“If it looks like Pierre is going to win, I would prefer to continue to serve municipally, rather than being a part of what will be an electoral train wreck of the Conservative Party,” Brown told CBC News.

Poilievre’s campaign has previously said they’ve signed up more than 300,000 members while Brown’s campaign claimed to have signed up 150,000.

Poilievre marches with anti-vaccine protesters

Meanwhile Poilievre, the front-runner in the Conservative Leadership race joined a march against vaccine mandates in Ottawa Thursday as party fractures continued to emerge over how closely members should associate with protestors gathering in Ottawa for Canada Day

Army reservist James Topp marched through Ottawa Thursday in protest of vaccine mandates. Poilievre joined him for part of the walk, and appeared in videos online chatting with Topp and others protesters.

“Today I walked alongside military veteran, James Topp, who has travelled the country by foot for free choice,” Poilievre said in a Tweet. “End all mandates. Restore our freedoms. Let people take back control of their lives.”

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre marched with James Topp, an army reservist who is protesting vaccine mandates. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Military police charged Topp in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform. Topp has since been leading a four-month march to the capital from Vancouver.

When asked for comment on Poilievre’s decision to join the protest, the Poilievre campaign directed CBC News to remarks he made to CTV News at the march.

“I think that [Topp] is advocating freedom of choice. People should have the freedom to make their own decisions with their own bodies and that’s why, I think, he’s walked across the country and that’s why I thought I would give him a greeting and give him a hearing and see if he has any thoughts to share with me,” Poilievre told CTV.

It’s not the first time prominent Conservatives have met with anti-vaccine mandate protesters, including Topp. Last week a group of Conservative MPs, including leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, met with organizers of the Freedom Convoy which occupied Ottawa in February.

Support for the Freedom Convoy protests has also been a contentious issue in the campaign’s leadership debates, with candidate Patrick Brown accusing Poilievre of supporting Pat King, one of the Freedom Convoy’s leading figures. Poilievre denied the charge, but defended his support of those protesting vaccine mandates.

Another leadership candidate, former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, has also gone after Poilievre over his support of the convoy protesters.

“Mr. Poilievre … supported an illegal blockade,” Charest said in the first debate. “You can’t make laws, and break laws.”

But in a media statement Thursday, Charest placed blame for the current protests on the Trudeau government.

“This latest protest is a symptom of Trudeau’s leadership failures,” Charest said. “He continues to show more interest in wedge politics than moving out of this pandemic. Bottom line, so long as the protest remains peaceful, Canadians have the right to voice their frustrations.”

Topp paused his march and drove to Ottawa to attend the meeting, which took place in a government building near Parliament Hill. Topp said he invited all MPs to attend, though only about 20 — all Conservatives — did. A spokesperson for Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said her office was aware of the event, but did not help organize it.

Former Ontario MPP and current leadership Candidate Roman Baber also voiced his support for Topp on Thursday.

“He is peacefully marching to give a voice to millions of Canadians. Instead of demonizing Canadians, let’s end all mandates and division. It’s time to heal,” he said in a statement.

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