Former chair of Conservative leadership race says quick vote on leader possible

New leadership race for the party informally started last week after Scheer announced his intention to resign

A senior Conservative instrumental in the party’s last leadership race says choosing a new leader at the upcoming convention in April is feasible, but would take a lot of work.

Dan Nowlan, who oversaw the 2017 leadership contest that ended in a photo-finish victory for Andrew Scheer, also says it’s disappointing that the party’s longtime executive director isn’t going to have a formal role to play in that process.

A new leadership race for the party informally started last week after Scheer announced his intention to resign. It was a move that wasn’t entirely unexpected, coming after months of both behind-the-scenes and very public pressure linked to his failure to win power in October.

But that all took a back seat to accusations that surfaced early last week that he’d used party funds to cover the costs of sending his kids to private school.

Caught up in the crossfire of that issue was the party’s executive director, Dustin Van Vugt, who has said he signed off on Scheer’s using the money in that way.

The overseers of the Conservative Fund, the party’s fundraising arm, apparently only learned of that decision last week and strenuously objected, leading to a fierce internal and ongoing fight.

Among the demands from the Fund are a line-by-line audit of Scheer’s expenses as leader that would include a deeper dive into contracts approved during his tenure, a source close to the Fund told The Canadian Press, on condition of anonymity so as to discuss internal Conservative party affairs.

Spokespeople for Scheer, and Van Vugt himself, have declined requests for comment. Among those who sit on the Conservative Fund’s board are former prime minister Stephen Harper. Efforts to reach him for comment have been unsuccessful. The Conservative Party has also declined official comment.

Nowlan, who has been active in the party for decades, called Van Vugt “one of the most obviously hardworking and ethical” people he’s ever worked with.

The two worked closely together during the lead-up to, and execution of, the 2017 leadership race, a 16-month contest that at one point involved 16 candidates, over a dozen debates, and the marshalling of votes from thousands of party members.

Nowlan and Van Vugt took to the stage during each round of voting of 2017 to announce the results, eventually culminating in a 13th-round win for Scheer, by a hair, over Maxime Bernier.

“It is disappointing he won’t have a senior role in the next leadership campaign,” Nowlan said of Van Vugt.

ALSO READ: A timeline of Andrew Scheer’s political career

Who will be playing those senior roles is the subject of multiple meetings this week of the Conservative party’s national council.

Part of the discussion will be whether the convention planned for April 2020 is the appropriate time and venue for a leadership vote.

Some in the party have called for the selection of their next leader to take place after that, while others say with a minority government in Ottawa, there is no time to waste.

“It is possible,” Nowlan said of the potentially tight timeline, “but it will take a lot of work.”

One challenge can be found in the party’s own constitution: the leadership vote requires providing the option for a mail-in ballot. Getting those prepared and out the door, and allowing them enough time to come back for an April count, could be tricky.

The leadership organizing committee, which Nowlan ran for the 2017 race, sets the rules of the contest, including the minimum fee required for entry, and the number of signatures a candidate needs to sponsor his or her nomination.

For the 2017 vote, those were $100,000 and 300 party members from at least 30 electoral districts in at least seven different provinces and territories.

At the time, those were considered relatively high barriers to entry, but the contest still produced a broad field of contenders and there is debate this time around about whether there is a way, and demand, to narrow the field.

Despite the absence of the rules, potential candidates’ names are already swirling.

Among them is that of longtime MP Pierre Poilievre. He insisted Monday is has no campaign organization in place because he’s not campaigning for anything, but said conversations about the future are ongoing.

“It’s too early to say what’s going to happen,” he said.

“There will be lots of people who will put their names forward. What I do know is that we need someone who will stand up, fight back, and win.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Second earthquake in two days strikes near Agassiz

A 2.6-magnitude recorded Saturday morning

Province bringing 421 new affordable childcare spaces to Fraser Valley

Supporting early childhood educators and creating spaces go hand in hand, minister says

Aspiring pot-sellers can apply in two weeks to operate stores in Abbotsford

City will accept applications to operate one of four new stores; public consultation to follow

Abbotsford homeless advocate killed by RCMP in Lytton

Barry Shantz spearheaded getting harm-reduction services in city, changing bylaws around homeless

SLIDESHOW: Vancouver Motorcycle Show back in Abbotsford

Annual event runs all weekend long on Tradex

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

UBC grad and sister killed in Iran plane crash had bright futures ahead, close friend says

Asadi-Lari siblings Mohammad Hussein and Zeynab were two of 57 Canadians aboard downed Flight PS752

Surrey tells Uber to cease operations in city, but company ‘respectfully’ declines

Ridesharing company told to stop operating within the city by 9 p.m. Jan. 24

Coronavirus concerns cause cancellation of Langley Lunar New Year celebration

Close to 1,000 were expected to attend the annual Live In Langley event on Saturday

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Most Read