There were 12 people who didn’t win the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada this past weekend, but arguably only one loser.
Kellie Leitch’s once-roaring campaign puttered past the finish line Saturday night with an embarrassing seventh place showing after the first ballot. It managed to hang on until the ninth round, at which time her wheezing little clunker finally gave out and died.
It was an abysmal finish not simply for a former frontrunner, but also and especially for a longtime Tory, a former cabinet minister and an objectively accomplished woman.
Other candidates performed worse, of course, but none left the impression that their campaign might later be something they’d look back on with humiliation.
Deepak Obhrai, for example, was first to be eliminated, but his campaign was nevertheless authentic, positive and inclusive. Few people who followed the campaign could have possibly walked away with a worse impression of him.
Michael Chong, likewise, remained true to his convictions — the only Tory who dared voice support for carbon taxes, even when it solicited boos from the crowd. Brad Trost’s better-than-expected showing proved the strength of social conservatives within the party, and Erin O’Toole stayed principled, running on his ideas rather than attacks.
Lisa Raitt was always a bit of a sleeper threat, and she demonstrated that with a powerful call for unity in a speech Friday night. She’ll work on her French and come back a more tenacious force next time around.
And Maxime Bernier — who just narrowly lost the leadership — was unafraid to slay a few sacred Canadian cows with his pledges to scrap supply management and end the Bombardier bailouts. For him and his team, the campaign was something of which they can surely be proud.
And then there’s Team Leitch, which opened strong with attacks against the establishment “elite,” only to be undermined by its own candidate, who was recorded back in January crowing about “the 22 letters” at the end of her name. Indeed, a surgeon/professor/former cabinet minister railing against the elites is a tough sell to begin with, without your candidate demonstrating how transparently she doesn’t believe her own campaign rhetoric.
The trajectory of her campaign was dealt two big blows in early 2017: the first, the entry of celebrity attention-seeker Kevin O’Leary, and the second, the resignation of campaign manager Nick Kouvalis, who stepped aside after calling a prominent academic a “cuck” on Twitter.
Leitch continued to preach anemically about Canadian values in awkward interviews and videos, but her early momentum was lost. She never got it back.
Some have suggested that Leitch’s poor showing on Saturday is a repudiation of the type of dog-whistle xenophobia her campaign seemed to embrace. That seems somewhat unlikely, considering that two-thirds of Canadians say they actually support her proposal to screen would-be immigrants for “Canadian values.”
More likely, it’s a repudiation of candidates running inauthentic campaigns for which they are completely ill-suited. Kellie Leitch’s campaign didn’t fit the candidate; that’s where she went wrong — right from the beginning.
Leitch went on Power & Politics last year and tearfully said she regretted her role in the proposed barbaric cultural practices tip line during the 2015 campaign. Then she backtracked, adopting the same type of low-brow politicking she seemed to apologize for months earlier. The problem for Leitch going forward is that you only get one tearful apology.
It’s hard to see Leitch now as anything but a future backbencher — if that. Her name is synonymous with a weird, divisive leadership campaign designed to appeal to Canadians’ baser instincts.
Most other candidates likely gained something from throwing their hats into the ring. For Leitch, there doesn’t appear to have been any benefit. It’s tough to see how she comes back from this.
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