OTTAWA — The naming of the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has been delayed for hours, after thousands of ballots were damaged.
The envelope-opening machines being used are “slicing through” some of the 174,849 mail-in ballots, resulting in “several thousand” being damaged, according to the party.
By 8 p.m. around 97 per cent of the ballots had been counted. The remaining three per cent of ballots were ripped or damaged and either had to be carefully scrutinized to establish the markings, or new ballots had to be marked with the same data, a process that is taking longer than anticipated.
“It has to do with the size of the envelope. We shrunk the size of the envelope to make sure that people would be able to get their ballots on time and back in because of COVID, and the machines aren’t jiving as well as they did last time,” Conservative Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) co-chair Lisa Raitt said in an interview on CTV News Channel. “We’re processing as quickly as we can.”
The party initially cited the record number of ballots cast, coupled with the COVID-19 restrictions as the cause of the hold-up.
The deadline to submit ballots was 5 p.m. ET on Friday, but the tallying of the ballots submitted by party members didn’t begin until the early morning hours on Sunday.
The first round of results was set to be revealed during an event slated to start at 6:00 p.m. ET, however, the event is now expected to start at 8:30 p.m. ET with some of the pre-result aspects of the event including a speech from Conservative Party President Scott Lamb.
At 9 p.m. there will be another break in the programing, with the first ballot results expected around 10 p.m. ET. If the second and third ballots are needed to determine a winner, they will be revealed in quick succession, the party says.
Raitt couldn’t say why the party took until just 30 minutes before the big event was set to get underway to announce the delay.
Once the results are known and a victor is named, it’ll mark the start of a new chapter for the federal party.
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It’s a ranked ballot vote, allowing party members to indicate on ballots their first-through-fourth choices to be their party’s next leader, and the winner needs to secure more than 50 per cent of support to be crowned.
Many expect the results to go to a second or even third ballot before a candidate comes out on top. In that case the candidate with the fewest votes will have their supporters’ next choices allocated to the remaining hopefuls.
The support is being calculated in points, with 100 points allocated to each of the 338 ridings, meaning there are 33,800 points up for grabs. The winner needs to secure at least 16,901 points to win. The points will be announced region-by-region, offering a cross-country look at where the candidates’ support lays.
“You may get more votes across the country but the reality is, where those votes are cast really does matter,” said Raitt in an earlier interview.
Despite many viewing the race early on as a tight fight between frontrunners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole, the unprecedented nature of 2020 has left the door open to surprise results, depending on how the support for a surging Leslyn Lewis and social-conservative-backed Derek Sloan shakes out.
Ahead of the results, each campaign sought to highlight their candidate’s strengths and outlined what would be their first move as leader.
“We’ve sold the most memberships… and we’ve got a person who will take Trudeau out in the next election, so for us the priorities today are unite the party, unite the country, and defeat Justin Trudeau,” MacKay’s campaign manager Alex Nuttall said.
Lewis’ campaign head Steve Outhouse said COVID-19 actually served as a “field-leveller” for her campaign. “Her message seemed to take of very well,” he said, speaking to her late-in-the-race surge in support.
“I do expect this to go beyond the first ballot and regardless we’ll be united behind whoever emerges victorious tonight,” said O’Toole backer David Piccini, adding that O’Toole too, found ways to leverage the reality of a largely virtual campaign to connect with Canadians.
Whomever wins will inherit the party at a key moment, and will need to immediately work to establish party unity after the sometimes fractious and months-long leadership race. Rallying the party across the country as well as the cadre of 121 MPs in Ottawa will be essential, as the Liberal minority has suspended Parliament to regroup amid talk of a snap election.
“The alienation of the West is real. And we have to make sure we reconcile east and West, Quebec and the social conservatives with the broader tent,” said Conservative MP and one-time candidate Marilyn Gladu on CTV News channel.
“In addition to that, how are we going to win young people? How are we going to win more women to the party? And what are we going to do to put an environmental policy in place that speaks to climate change and the issues that Canadians are looking for? So that’s what the party needs to come with and that’s why I’m ready to help. We’re going to expand the tent, win the next election.”
The new leader will have their first chance to spell out their ideas tonight, when they take the stage to give their first speech as the head of the party.
Expect to hear the winner speak to their vision for the future of the party, and spell out how they plan to be an effective Official Opposition, and their path to defeating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next election.
Outgoing Leader Andrew Scheer will be speaking before the results are revealed, and in an interview with CTV News on Sunday he vowed to do everything he can to help whoever his successor is with finding the common ground among the various factions of the party.
“What’s at stake is the future of this country,” Scheer said. “The challenge for our party and the next leader is to make the case for conservative principles of individual freedom, individual liberty, free markets and limited government.”
Much like the entire campaign, tonight’s event will look much different than it has for Conservative leaders in the past, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While the results will be revealed in-person at a pared-down event at an Ottawa convention centre, instead of crowds of supporters packed in, each candidate will be watching the province-by-province tallies come in from separate rooms and is being live streamed to supporters.
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