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Federal Politics

A Motley Pack of Tory Leadership Stragglers

Wandering the party’s outer fringes are these six candidates. Let’s round ‘em up.

Steve Burgess 28 Mar

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

The Conservative leadership field looks to be sorting itself out. Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest are in the front rank and a second, comprising Patrick Brown and Leslyn Lewis, has formed behind them. But with the Sept. 10 vote months away, hopefuls are still lining up. The Conservative leadership contest is starting to look like a gas station advertising 1.39 a litre.

As the Rolling Stones once sang: “Take a thousand dollars, go have some fun/Put it on a horse at a hundred to one.” Here are the longshot candidates hoping to catch fire with insurgent campaigns.

Marc Dalton

“The West wants in!” the Reform Party once cried, and now the MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge is answering the call. And when it comes to representing the party fringe, it's not just a matter of geography for Dalton. His announcement video plays like a locker-room pep talk for the truck convoy crowd. Dalton promises an inquiry into the COVID pandemic that would put the Liberal government on trial for hyping and manipulating the pandemic, coercing the beleaguered public into vaccination, and seeking political and personal gain for its cronies.

On Apr. 13, 2020 Dalton released a quickly-deleted tweet that read: “Most deaths are in care homes where average life expectancy is 2 yrs & 65% usually pass in the 1st yr. Time to start moving Canada back to work?” His recent announcement video also made reference to alleged “injuries and deaths” caused by the vaccine.

Dalton's time as a BC Liberal MLA was rocky, to say the least. He survived two different recall campaigns and faced criticism for a homophobic email, as well as his later claim that there are no homeless and hungry children in B.C.

A former teacher, Dalton was involved in a minor scandal when he cashed a cheque (another MLA, Don Rae, sent to him in error by the BCTF also received a cheque by mistake and promptly mailed it back). Cashing an unearned cheque from a union settlement carried an extra sting since Dalton had crossed BCTF picket lines in 2005. Nor would he appear to need the money — he is eligible for a BC Teacher's Plan pension, a BC MLA's pension (in addition to severance payments), and has now qualified for an MP's pension as well.

Dalton's transition to federal politics was similarly troubled. He lost the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge Conservative nomination to Randy Kamp in 2004. Two years later he managed to get the party nod in Burnaby-New West but lost the election to the NDP's Peter Julian. In 2008 he tried for the Conservative nomination again only to have his candidacy refused by the federal party — Dalton claims he was never told why. In 2015 while still a B.C. MLA he ran again for the federal Conservative nomination, this time with the party's blessing. It didn't help — he lost the nomination again. But Conservative candidate Mike Murray went on to lose the seat to the Liberals, clearing the way for Dalton to try for the brass ring yet again. Fifth time was the charm for Dalton, who was at last elected MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge in 2019.

As the leadership campaign opens Dalton looks like a very long shot. In his favour, some of the controversies he has created are just the kind of thing modern right wingers like to highlight on their resumes. But so far the B.C. candidate ranks no higher than third on the hard-right depth chart, behind Poilievre and Lewis.

Dalton is bilingual. In addition to fluent conspiracy, he speaks excellent French.

Scott Aitchison

There is an informal tradition that insurgent candidacies launch themselves from the fiery fringes of the political spectrum, hoping to make waves through sheer ideological ferocity (see Dalton above, and Roman Baber, below). Scott Aitchison seems to believe that in the current polarized climate, a moderate option might look like a radical choice.

The MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka made the jump to Parliament in 2019, having previously been mayor of his hometown, Huntsville, Ontario. Prior to that he was a town councillor and a real estate salesman.

For good or ill, Aitchison does not have the sort of political record Dalton has left behind. He prides himself on having co-operated with the Liberals on an extension of bereavement leave for federal employees. He opposes a carbon tax. His leadership pitch aims at a tone of civility: “Canadians are sick and tired of the partisan gridlock and the ideological entrenchment,” his said in announcing his run. “The antics you see in question period, that's not what Canadians want.”

He is well thought of by Huntsville locals and has been endorsed by Kenora MP Eric Melillo, currently the youngest sitting member of Parliament.

Potential controversy? Aitchison held his campaign launch at the Canvas Brewing Company in downtown Huntsville — partisans of the nearby Huntsville Brewhouse may feel slighted. That's about it, though.

Leona Alleslev

Political floor-crossing always exacts a price. Leona Alleslev, who went from Liberal backbencher to Andrew Scheer's deputy leader, is hoping to escape the turncoat's curse.

Alleslev is the daughter of an RCAF officer and was born on an airbase in Monchengladbach, West Germany in 1968. She eventually became an RCAF captain herself and has frequently focused on military affairs during her political career.

She entered Parliament as a Liberal in 2015. In September 2018 the Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill Liberal MP abruptly announced she was joining the ranks of the Conservative opposition. Why Alleslev crossed remains something of a mystery. At the time she said it was because “our country is at stake,” as one does. Her website now says that she left because the Liberals were “not focused on tackling the priorities in a time of unprecedented global instability.”

In hindsight, 2018 had no idea what “unprecedented global instability” even looked like. But Alleslev must have had her reasons for the switch. She had scraped into office in a newly-created riding located in a strong Tory area, and had lost her parliamentary secretary position the previous year. It's possible Scheer offered her a juicy incentive, a supposition reinforced by Alleslev's subsequent appointment as Conservative deputy leader the following year.

Alleslev won her first race as a Conservative in 2019 but then lost a close rematch with Liberal Leah Taylor Roy last September.

Marc Dalton (whose picture is at the top of this story) is jostling with the five candidates above to break out of the ranks of long shots for Conservative leader. From left to right, the rivals and their stances are Scott Aitchison (I’m anti-antics); Leona Allelsley (Did I use to be Liberal?); Bobby Singh (Immigration good, crime bad); Roman Baber (I’m too right-wing for Doug Ford) and Joseph Bourgault (God loves our rebellious truckers). Photos via the candidates’ social media.

Alleslev formally announced her Conservative leadership candidacy last Thursday. Her campaign web bio tiptoes a delicate line, listing Alleslev's accomplishments (parliamentary secretary to the minister of public services and procurement! National Defence Committee! Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee! Citizenship and Immigration Committee! Chair of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association!) without mentioning the political party for which she did such sterling service. Several paragraphs go by before she acknowledges that big red elephant in the room.

With her long-time focus on international and military issues, plus her awkward Liberal background, it is difficult to see where her natural Conservative constituency might lie. Floor-crossers are always welcomed with great fanfare but their new friends remember.

Bobby Singh

A former Conservative candidate for Scarborough-Rouge Park (where fellow candidate Leslyn Lewis also made her political debut — losing to Liberal Gary Anandasangaree is something the two have in common), this is Singh's second run at the Conservative leadership. If he satisfies the application criteria Singh will already have done better than in 2020, when he fell at that hurdle.

Leadership candidates must post an initial $50,000 deposit by Apr. 19. Then the candidate has until Apr. 29 to provide the remaining $150,000 registration fee, a $100,000 security deposit and the signatures of 500 party members from at least 30 electoral districts and seven provinces.

Should Singh qualify this time, he will offer a platform combining some progressive planks on immigration and the environment with a tough-on-crime stance.

A modest $50 wager on Singh would return a handsome payoff.

Roman Baber

If the federal Conservatives seek a candidate who was a bit too much for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Roman Baber stands ready.

Baber, who was born in the former Soviet Union, was once an MPP in Doug Ford's Ontario Conservative government. He's still an MPP but since January 2021 has been sitting as an independent. Baber got the boot from caucus over his opposition to provincial COVID regulations. “Lockdowns are killing more than saving,” Baber said at the time.

Other leadership candidates have opposed mandates but Baber points out that he was blowing that freedom horn before it was cool.

To his credit Baber was not just a thorn in Ford's side over masks and vaccine mandates. He was also behind a scathing report on provincial reforms to the Ontario Autism Program. Baber reported that the Ford government had misled the public about the size of wait lists, that its plan was rushed and poorly designed, and that its defence of the plan had been stubborn and wrong-headed. The report's criticisms even drew an apology from the Ford government, not something the premier likely thanked Baber for.

Baber now says that parties need more tolerance for outspoken mavericks like himself. Those mavericks still need to raise at least $300,000 to qualify for the race though, which could leave Baber stuck in the ranks of the independents.

Joseph Bourgault

For the gambler who thinks Roman Baber does not offer sufficiently long odds, there is Saskatchewan businessman Joseph Bourgault. He is the CEO of the Bourgault Tillage Tools company and founder of a non-profit organization called Canadians for Truth. Not surprisingly that brand of truth aligns with the goals of the truck convoy, of which Bourgault was an enthusiastic supporter. He also identifies immigration as an area of concern.

The Canadians for Truth Twitter account favours Theo Fleury quotes, Biblical passages supporting the truckers and vaccine conspiracy theories. There's a retweet promoting “Quercetin with zinc” as a strong anti-viral medicine.

Bourgault says he intends to focus his campaign on Alberta. Specifically, perhaps, on the friends and family of Theo Fleury?

Ten candidates are now declared or confirmed. With the entry deadline still three weeks away, more may yet emerge. Stephen Harper, Peter Mackay and Ben Mulroney have confirmed they will not be among them.

Steve Burgess is profiling the Conservative leadership candidates as they emerge. Collect them all!

Pierre Poilievre’s Drive to Power

Well, Jean Charest, This Will Be Interesting

Next Tory Leader? Leslyn Lewis Came Close Last Time

Patrick Brown’s Cage Match with Pierre Poilievre  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Federal Politics

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