National Newswatch

OTTAWA — Potential candidates for leadership of the federal Conservatives began staking claims this weekend to policy positions ranging from a call for a referendum on pipelines to a rethink of subsidies to the CBC.

With no formal rules in place for the 2017 Conservative leadership vote, no candidate has yet to formally enter the race.

But five potential hopefuls took the stage nonetheless over the last two days at the annual Manning conference to speak on a panel called "If I run, here's how." 

Lisa Raitt, Tony Clement, Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong are all current Tory MPs, the fifth was businessman and TV personality Kevin O'Leary.

They aren't the only names in the mix.

One that surfaced at the convention is that of Andrew Scheer, the Saskatchewan MP and former Speaker. 

He's fluently bilingual, young, and because of his role as Speaker, not saddled with some of the partisan baggage of his caucus colleagues, sources told The Canadian Press.

Others frequently bandied about include current MPs Kellie Leitch, Jason Kenney, former MPs Peter MacKay and James Moore and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

In no particular order, here's some of what each of the five potential candidates said to the conference about how they'd run.

Lisa Raitt

Ontario MP currently serving in the high profile position of finance critic for the Opposition.

Raitt spoke about her upbringing in Cape Breton, N.S. and how she came to get into politics. She urged Conservatives not to think of the current Liberal government as history repeating itself and said the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is not his father Pierre and the default approach should not be the Liberals will get two terms in office. 

"Let's figure out what brings us together and what unites us. Let us remember who we are fighting for, what we are fighting against and never ever speak ill of any fellow conservative."


Tony Clement

An Ontario MP who held several cabinet positions under the previous government and is well known for his robust presence on social media. 

He says the Conservatives need to explore what their environment policy should look like post the Paris summit on climate change this year, that a debate on an anti-poverty strategy is essential and the government subsidy to CBC needs to be reviewed. He also slammed the party's election strategy and says he plans to launch an app to help with outreach.

"We do need to re-evaluate and adapt to the shifting Canadian political landscape but this does not mean throwing out the good with the bad. We must be the political organization that represents those basic tenets that define conservativism."


Maxime Bernier

One of the most popular Conservative MPs in Quebec.

He called for an end to government subsides for business and a rethink of the equalization payment system. He also attacked the notion — advanced by O'Leary — that being bilingual was not a requirement for winning the race, winning much applause. Bernier handed out T-shirts and business cards directing people to a "Maxime in 2017" website but says he's waiting to see the rules of the race before formally declaring he'll run.

"We Conservatives have to show everyone that we have solutions. For me, it is not solutions involving Ottawa redistributing more money from some regions to others, but solutions based on a freer economy, on responsibility and fairness."


Michael Chong

Ontario Tory MP who in the last Parliament championed a bill to reform the way party caucuses operated in the House of Commons.

During his speech, he called for debates on carbon pricing, implementing a simpler, fairer, flatter income tax system and on democratic reform to make parties more open and transparent. He said the party should take a page from the Liberals' outreach strategy to younger Canadians.

"If I run, I would do two things — I would better tell our story and i would put forward bold and innovative policies based on Conservative principles."


Kevin O'Leary

Businessman and best known to Canadians for his role on the CBC show Dragons' Den.

He says he thinks the economy is broken, as evidenced by the slide in the Canadian dollar and that too many young people leave Canada for work elsewhere. Until it's fixed, there's no point debating any other issues, he said. He called for a national referendum on pipeline construction.

"My only interest is to affect economic and fiscal policy and make it more efficient." 


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Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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