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Deadline passes for Conservative rivals to sign up new members

Last Updated Mar 29, 2017 at 1:47 pm EDT

Participants prepare for the start of the Conservative leadership candidates' bilingual debate in Moncton, N.B., on Dec. 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Conservative leadership candidates are shifting their attention from signing up new members to locking in their all-important votes now that Wednesday’s crucial membership deadline has passed.

Businessman, reality-TV star and leadership upstart Kevin O’Leary was among the first out of the blocks to declare his membership total after the midnight cut-off, declaring he had enlisted 35,336 members in 69 days.

Lisa Raitt told supporters in an email she’s signed up at least 10,613 members, while Kellie Leitch said her campaign brought in 30,038 new memberships. Michael Chong’s campaign put his numbers at around 10,000.

The accuracy of the numbers is difficult to verify; the party doesn’t expect to release an official total until some time in April, and even then it will be difficult to clearly link new members with specific campaigns.

Indeed, given the way the coming vote will be structured, the raw figures don’t mean much.

Instead of ‘one member, one vote,’ every riding in the country is allocated 100 points no matter how many members they have, and the points are allocated based on the share of the vote a candidate gets. They need a minimum of 16,901 points to win.

On top of that, members don’t have to just vote for one candidate. It’s a ranked ballot, so members can select up to nine names from the list of 14, which means it’s likely to take more than one ballot to choose a winner on May 27.

“With more than one ballot, Conservatives must consider more than just their first choice in deciding who to support,” Raitt’s campaign noted in an email to supporters.

“In doing so, they need to determine who best combines the qualities the Conservative Party needs in its next leader.”

In announcing his numbers, O’Leary called on the other contenders to “release their accurate membership sales” and on the Conservative party to audit the membership list to ensure it conforms to the rules.

O’Leary’s challenge comes after the party removed more than 1,300 people from its membership rolls after a review found they hadn’t paid for the memberships themselves.

“Following the issue we brought to light earlier this month regarding sketchy organizers buying fraudulent memberships, it is critical that all campaigns adopt the highest standards of ethical conduct when reporting on their membership sales,” he said in his email.


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Several campaigns pointed out that they can’t release their membership sale numbers until those sales are in fact verified by the party, a process that is expected to take weeks.

Raitt also echoed O’Leary’s call to root out any fraud.

“A Conservative party membership needs to be worth something, which means whoever is trying to cheat the system and add an inappropriate $20,000 into this race needs to be found and expelled,” she wrote.

The party said it wasn’t possible to determine which campaign or campaigns were involved, since the memberships were purchased anonymously.

Just over 251,000 people took out memberships in 2004, before Stephen Harper was elected to lead the party that rose from a merger between the federal Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance.

Prior to the start of this race, the membership list had dipped to around 100,000 people.

“My strong sense from every recent event is that most members have not yet made up their minds,” said Chris Alexander, one of the contenders.

“They’re considering their options – making lists of acceptable candidates. But they all still expect to hear final pitches from each of us.”