The 13 Conservative leadership candidates made a final pitch for party unity on Friday as thousands of members gathered in Toronto the night before the new leader is crowned.
“Come Monday, this leadership is over. Come Monday, there is only one shade of blue,” said Lisa Raitt, the popular Conservative MP whose campaign was hampered by her lack of French-speaking skills and lack of momentum.
“Come Monday, every single Conservative in Canada will need to ask ourselves the very same question: ‘What is more important to me, the last campaign or the next one?’”
Ms. Raitt added that she will support the winner if she loses, and expects the same attitude from the other candidates if she wins. “I ask all of my supporters to do likewise,” she said.
Another key theme of the evening was attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and vowing to beat him in the next general election.
“Canada cannot afford four more years of Justin Trudeau. The Liberals must be beaten in 2019. And to win we must have a leader who can unite our party and our movement. I can do that,” said Andrew Scheer, who is considered a strong contender in the race.
The speeches were held at the Congress Centre in Toronto, where there is simultaneously an anime convention that has attracted hundreds of fans dressed up as Japanese cartoon characters.
The new leader will be announced on Saturday night. Conservative members, most voting with mail-in ballots, were asked to rank their choices in order of preference. Almost 260,000 members were eligible to vote, with the party reporting almost 50-per-cent turnout as of last week.
Maxime Bernier, the front-runner in the race, didn’t delve deeply on Friday into his libertarian proposals, such as ending supply management and curbing the federal government’s role in health care.
Mr. Bernier’s presentation was the fifth of the evening, and the first to generate wide applause. He started off with a slick video presentation that showed him at various campaign events, set to the sound of an ominous drumbeat.
“It’s time to vote for what you believe in,” Mr. Bernier said in his video, vowing to fight for free markets and less government.
However, he only gave a quick speech in French and English in which he thanked his supporters and repeated the call for party unity. He did not use up the full 10-minute allotment that was offered to all 13 candidates.
Kellie Leitch, who caused controversy early in the race with her pitch to screen immigrants for “Canadian values,” said the party must support whomever wins.
“In less than 24 hours, we will know who the new leader of our party will be. Our responsibility is to unite behind that person so we can present to Canadians a united, clear, Canadian, common-sense Conservative alternative to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in 2019,” Ms. Leitch said.
Conservative MP Michael Chong was the first candidate to make a 10-minute presentation, going up on stage to little applause from the room. He was introduced by his wife and children.
“We can do better,” Mr. Chong said as he attacked the Liberal government’s record and vowed to build a bigger Conservative Party. “It starts by taking the fight to Trudeau.”
However, he did not mention his plan for a carbon tax, which has failed to win broad support among the Conservative membership.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole started off with a video that detailed his career in the military and as a lawyer before he entered politics four years ago. He said the Conservative Party is united and healthy, but needs a leader that can offer a fresh approach and new ideas to “win back the trust of Canadians.”
“We need to reconnect with more Canadians,” he said, while attacking the current Liberal government’s deficits and lack of growth-fuelling policies. “Canada doesn’t need a celebrity leader, we need a competent one.”
He added he is actually younger than Mr. Trudeau, pointing to his face and saying “this is what a life of hard work looks like.”
In her speech, Ms. Raitt talked at length about the women she has met during her campaign and promised to keep focusing on issues that can improve their daily lives.
“I see you, I hear you, and I want to help make policy that will make our lives better,” she said.
Ms. Raitt added that she will keep learning French, regardless of the results of the vote that will be unveiled on Saturday night.
Follow us on Twitter:,