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OTTAWA — In a surprising development that reshapes the Conservative leadership contest, Pierre Poilievre has decided not to enter the race, saying it would be too hard on his young family and his heart isn’t fully in it.
Poilievre, the 40-year-old MP for the suburban Ottawa riding of Carleton, was considered to be a front-runner and his entry into the race was expected imminently. In fact, multiple media outlets reported just on Wednesday that Poilievre’s campaign launch was set for this weekend.
He is the third high-profile potential candidate to drop out of the running this week, following announcements from former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former Alberta MP Rona Ambrose. But unlike those two, Poilievre was seen as a lock to get into the race. Campaign staff working for other candidates told the National Post they were shocked by the news he isn’t running.
In a statement, Poilievre cited family reasons for his decision. He is recently married and has a young child.
Without being all in, I cannot be in at all
“I knew it would be hard on my family life to do this,” Poilievre said in a statement, noting he has been criss-crossing the country to prepare his campaign. “But I did not realize how hard. It is harder still because I had just spent the earlier 18 months campaigning furiously to win back my seat in the recent federal election, I mostly missed the 1st year of our baby’s life. As such, my heart is not fully engaged in this leadership race. Without being all in, I cannot be in at all.”
His wife Anaida echoed those sentiments in her own post on Facebook. “While we felt ready to tackle this challenge together as family, logistically it became a challenge bigger than expected,” she said. “We wish to be together more, and I hope people can understand that.”
Poilievre said he isn’t currently supporting any other candidate, but will be looking for a “strong fiscal conservative.”
“Finally, I want to thank the people who helped me, supported me and believed in me,” he wrote. “I will never forget it.”
Poilievre has held a seat in Parliament since 2004. He served in Stephen Harper’s cabinet from 2013 to 2015, and is the party’s finance critic.
Jenni Byrne, a former senior aide and organizer for Harper, had been working with Poilievre to get his campaign off the ground. “I think that the last few weeks were a lot more tough than what was anticipated,” Byrne told CTV News shortly after Poilievre’s announcement. “This is a big commitment. It’s not just a leadership race. It could be two to three years in opposition as well.”
Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, who would have been a key organizer for Poilievre in Quebec, told the Post he was disappointed. “I believe Pierre would have made a great leader,” Housakos said in a statement. “I still do. Other than that I will respectfully let Pierre’s statement speak for itself.”
Poilievre’s exit still leaves the race with at least one MP in the running: Marilyn Gladu. However, MP Erin O’Toole — who finished third in the 2017 leadership race — has a full team in place and is expected to announce his entry soon.
But it’s Peter MacKay, a former leader of the Progressive Conservative party and senior cabinet minister in Harper’s government, who may benefit the most from Poilievre’s exit. Poilievre was seen by many party insiders as MacKay’s toughest competition, at least among the names that are expected to get in the race.
Conservative strategist Tim Powers, who isn’t attached to a campaign, said he was “very surprised” by Poilievre’s announcement.
“I know Poilievre had made a number of calls to a number of people across the country,” Powers said. “It all seemed set to go. He certainly wasn’t reluctant, as perhaps Rona had been in her thought process.”
Powers said it’s too early to say this will now be a MacKay coronation, though his path to victory does look clearer now. But he also said the race itself will suffer from Poilievre’s decision.
“You want to have a healthy, competitive leadership race,” he said. “When you have three high-profile names now not entering, that’s not good for the Conservative party… But Conservative leadership races are never predictable, and this one is living up to that.”
The deadline to enter the race is Feb. 27. The winner will be announced on June 27 in Toronto.
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