OTTAWA May 27 Canada's official opposition
Conservative Party is set to elect a new leader on Saturday,
seeking to regroup and rebrand as it gears up for the 2019
election race against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's
The race has had moments of Trump-like populism with a
reality TV star and a candidate critical of immigration getting
early attention. But three mainstream politicians have emerged
as front-runners, suggesting the wave of populism that swept
Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency in November will not extend
The race between 13 candidates is too close to call but the
winner faces an uphill battle to re-unite the right-of-center
party that held power for nearly a decade under former Prime
Minister Stephen Harper before the center-left Liberals won a
shock majority in 2015.
"The challenge will be to attack Justin Trudeau's
weaknesses, but also to bring Conservatives who have left the
party back into the fold," said Queen's University political
science professor Jonathan Rose.
Libertarian former Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier, former
House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer and former Veterans
Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole are leading in polls, fundraising
and endorsements. But analysts have been wary about predicting
how preferences will shake out on multiple ballot counts
required for one candidate to win a majority of votes.
Bernier was bolstered in late April when front-runner Kevin
O'Leary, a reality TV star and businessman, withdrew from the
race and threw his support behind him. Bernier might be best
known to the wider public for resigning from Harper's cabinet
after leaving confidential documents at the house of a
girlfriend with links to organized crime.
Like Trudeau, Bernier is from Quebec, the predominantly
French-speaking province which holds 78 of the 338 seats in the
House of Commons and is vital to a party's prospects.
None of the candidates have the high profile of Trudeau,
whose approval ratings have faltered after nearly two years in
office but remain higher than any opponent on the left or right,
despite rising dissatisfaction with the economy and a series of
spending and entitlement controversies.
"For Conservatives, it is really all about the economy,"
said Darrell Bricker, pollster with Ipsos Public Affairs. "If
the Conservative Party doesn't have a strong lead over the
Liberals on the question of which party has the best economic
plan, it will struggle."
According to a Nanos poll, Trudeau is the preferred choice
as prime minister among 46.3 percent of Canadians, far ahead of
other Canadian party leaders.
To win, Bricker said the new leader must rebuild strength
in rural and Western Canada as well as the vote-rich suburbs in
Ontario. And he argues they don't need a leader with the
charisma of Trudeau.
"The left needs to love. They need to believe that their
vote is a statement about hope for the future. Trudeau,
therefore, is perfect for them," said Bricker. "Tories prefer
their leaders to get things done, not to inspire them ... and
electing a less inspirational leader is not a problem for them."
(Additional reporting by David Ljunngren; Editing by Amran
Abocar and Mary Milliken)