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Race for the next Conservative leader begins as Poilievre announces his bid

OTTAWA — Pierre Poilievre, the Conservatives' high-profile finance critic, launched his bid Saturday to become the party's next leader, with many fellow members of Parliament already endorsing his run.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, Monday, November 29, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Pierre Poilievre, the Conservatives' high-profile finance critic, launched his bid Saturday to become the party's next leader, with many fellow members of Parliament already endorsing his run.

He is the first candidate to announce his intention to run for the Conservative Party of Canada's top spot after MPs forced Erin O'Toole out of the position only three days earlier. 

In a three minute video released on social media Saturday evening, Poilievre, seated at a desk in front of a bookshelf, doesn't mention the Conservative party by name or the contest, saying only that he wants the job as prime minister. 

Despite his reputation as a fiery performer in Parliament, he calmly delivers his message that he believes government spending is out of control and wants to make "Canadians the freest people on earth." 

As examples, he lists paying lower taxes, raising a family according to one's own values and "freedom to make your own health and vaccine choices." 

He also mentions needing less regulation for businesses and gives a nod to firearms owners, which comprise a sizable chunk of the party's base, saying the federal Liberal government is unfairly targeting law-abiding hunters and farmers. 

Poilievre throws his hat into the ring ahead of any other prospective candidate and before the race has officially begun, as the party's election committee doesn't yet exist and no rules have been released. 

As such, he can't begin fundraising. A document attached to his launch video released Saturday lists one of the options for supporters to choose to help is by purchasing memberships to vote for him.

Other names being tossed around for potential candidates include Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, who placed third in the 2020 leadership race as well as Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Peter MacKay, former leader of the Progressive Conservative party and cabinet minister, who finished second behind O'Toole. 

Poilievre's announcement, which was highly anticipated by those in the party, was quickly followed by many MPs pledging their support. 

"I'm with Pierre," tweeted Ontario MP Melissa Lantsman. "No question — Pierre is the right answer to a strong (and) united Conservative Party."

Longtime Conservative Manitoba MP James Bezan also endorsed Poilievre, saying in a tweet that he has the communication skills, work ethic and "strong conservative values" to defeat Trudeau.

Marilyn Gladu, an Ontario MP who only days earlier mused about another possible leadership run herself, also said Saturday Poilievre could count on her endorsement. 

Poilievre also secured the support of John Baird, who served as a cabinet minister in former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government along with Poilievre. Together, the pair worked together on the Federal Accountability Act and remain in touch. 

Many Conservatives regard Poilievre as a natural front-runner in the race as he is already beloved by many in the grassroots. 

At 42, he has spent most of his adult life on Parliament Hill. He ran for his seat at age 24 back in 2004. During Harper's time in government, Poilievre served as Baird's parliamentary secretary and was appointed the minister of democratic reform, becoming the face of the debate around the Fair Elections Act.  

More recently, Poilievre has thrown his support behind a convoy of truckers and other protesters who, one week after initially parking in downtown Ottawa, are refusing to leave. 

Their decision to settle in has prompted police and city officials to call the situation a crisis, as residents have had to listen to days of constant honking and seen some protesters displaying Nazi symbols, including swastikas. Some local businesses have also decided to shut their doors after reports of harassment by protesters and the flouting of COVID-19 public health rules. 

Throughout his time in Parliament, Poilievre has developed a reputation as being deeply steeped in conservatism and loyalty to the party. 

He enters the race with a considerable social media following and during last year's election struck out with his own campaign videos and slogan, separate than that of the party's or leader's. 

This also isn't the first time he considered a run for party leader. 

In 2020, Poilievre began planning to enter the race to replace former leader Andrew Scheer, but decided against doing so, saying at the time campaigning would take away from time spent with his young family. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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