National Newswatch

OTTAWA —Conservative MP and former leadership contender Michael Chong said Wednesday he hasn’t yet ruled out another potential run for the top job, while a different prospective candidate prepares to meet tonight with potential supporters.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest is set to meet with MPs and senators in Ottawa at a reception planned by Alain Rayes and Rick Perkins, who are two of at least four elected members who want him to enter the race to become the next Tory leader.

Leaving the Conservatives’ weekly caucus meeting, Perkins said he expected many to attend to hear from Charest about a possible run. If it goes ahead, Charest’s play for leadership would be taking place more than 20 years after the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party left federal politics.

Chong, a longtime Ontario MP and foreign affairs critic, also left open the chance of running again Wednesday.

In 2017, he placed fifth in the crowded race to replace former Conservative leader and prime minister Stephen Harper, in which Andrew Scheer was ultimately elected.

Chong told reporters his first priority now is his critic role, which he holds as Canada and other world powers respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The second focus, he says, is “thinking about, in the coming weeks, what I can do to help my party and my country.”

As Conservatives wait to find out their options for party leader, many of their 119 MPs have already thrown their support behind Pierre Poilievre, the high-profile Ottawa-area representative who is so far the only contender in the race.

The contest hasn’t officially begun. A committee of Conservatives struck to establish the rules of the race is set to meet again in the coming days. It must decide the criteria for membership sales and entrance fees, not to mention make the all-important decision about how long the competition will last.

Quebec Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu said Wednesday he believes the race should run until September to provide candidates from outside caucus a chance to enter, including Charest, as well as political commentator Tasha Kheiriddin, who is considering becoming a candidate.

Others considering the idea include Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who formerly led Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, and Leslyn Lewis, the Ontario MP who placed third behind former leader Erin O’Toole in the 2020 contest, thanks to considerable backing from its social conservatives and Western members.

One obvious factor that hangs over the race’s timing is the fact that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau governs in a minority Parliament, which means an election could happen any time.

The lack of official party rules hasn’t stopped different camps of Conservatives from coalescing around prospective candidates and Poilievre from kicking off his fundraising.

He’s also been hitting the road. He attended an event in Montreal earlier in the week and on Friday plans to hold a rally in Regina.

Poilievre has also been staking out his own policy positions. Recently, he released a video in which he called Europe’s response in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “weak.”

“There’s a reason much of Europe has cowered in this face of this thug — oil and gas,” he said in the roughly six-minute video.

Some of those in caucus backing his leadership defended his wording, while at least one characterized it as divisive.

“I think that we don’t have to divide, we have to be very solid with Ukraine. And I think we have to be very prudent with comments,” said Boisvenu.

Chong added the Conservative position is that Canada, alongside Europe, the United Kingdom and United States, have presented a united front to counter Russia’s aggression.

“Our view is also that NATO has been brought together by this threat coming from President (Vladimir) Putin and the Russian federation and it is working more cohesively and more strongly than it has in the past 10 years.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2022.

The Canadian Press
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