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Pressure grows on Conservative Party as O'Toole, Sloan call for delay of leadership race

OTTAWA — There is growing pressure on the Conservative party to delay its leadership race as two of the four candidates on the final ballot have now said it’s not right to be campaigning while Canada is seized by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erin O’Toole, considered to be one of two front-runners in the race, released a video on Sunday calling for the race to be delayed.

“I’m asking the leadership committee of the Conservative Party of Canada to delay the Conservative leadership contest to ensure that all time and resources of our Conservative caucus and our grassroots members can be focused on helping our constituents and the needs of our communities in the fight against COVID-19,” O’Toole said in the video.

However, as of Sunday afternoon the party says its position hasn’t changed and that the race can proceed as scheduled . The party says it is closely monitoring the situation and will keep assessing whether the race can continue.

Conservatives are to choose a successor to Andrew Scheer at a convention in Toronto on June 27.

O’Toole said he wanted his campaign team and supporters to devote their time to helping their communities, and said Parliament should create an all-party committee to show a united front in dealing with the pandemic.

Derek Sloan, who qualified for the final ballot last week, also called over the weekend for the party to delay the race.

Sloan said he spoke with the co-chairs of the leadership committee, Dan Nowlan and Lisa Raitt, and told them that continuing the race is damaging the party’s brand, that campaigning is practically impossible right now, and that it’s wrong to be soliciting donations during the pandemic.

Peter MacKay, the race’s other front-runner, is not calling for the race to be suspended, saying he’ll leave it up to the party.

His campaign said it was the first to suspend in-person events due to the pandemic.

“Just as Canadians across the country have had to adapt to the new norm of social distancing, so has our campaign,” it said. “We have used technology to have meaningful conversations with members. For the past week, Mr. MacKay has been encouraging members and supporters to donate to their local food bank, instead of to the campaign, and will continue to do so.”

The campaign’s director of communications, Julie Vaux, told the National Post she left the campaign last week because she believes it’s inappropriate to be campaigning during COVID-19. She said it was a personal decision and she still supports MacKay’s leadership bid.

Leslyn Lewis, the fourth candidate on the final ballot, told the Post on Sunday she does not support delaying the race.

“The next leader of our party is going to be required to show leadership in a time where Canada is still in the valley created by this pandemic,” she said in a statement. “How you lead and manage a campaign in a time of crisis is very indicative of how you can lead the party, and more importantly, our country in a time of crisis.”

Until now, the only candidates calling for the race to be delayed were also those furthest back in the qualifying process: Marilyn Gladu, Rick Peterson and Rudy Husny. The party’s leadership election organizing committee (LEOC) met in response to those calls on March 15, but decided against extending deadlines or putting the race on pause.

“To date, the LEOC and Party staff are confident that all requirements, key dates, and milestones can be met to continue the race,” the party said last week.

• Email: bplatt@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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