OTTAWA — Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper made an unexpected public entry into the race for his latest successor Monday, throwing his support behind longtime Ottawa MP Pierre Poilievre.
Harper, who has rarely commented on domestic politics since losing the 2015 federal election, endorsed Poilievre in a video posted to social media. He called Poilievre the party’s most effective critic of the ruling Liberals, and said the Conservative front-runner talks about issues that matter, especially economics, as well as the need to fix the institutions that are failing Canadian families.
Poilievre’s promises, Harper said, are rooted in “sound Conservative ideas, but ones adapted for today’s realities.”
That’s why, Harper said, Poilievre has support among so many MPs, and has brought so many new members and a new generation into the party.
“That’s how we win the next federal election and in my opinion, Pierre has made by far the strongest case he is the person to do that.”
Poilievre is now in his seventh term as an MP, and was a cabinet minister during the Conservatives’ years in government.
“Prime Minister @stephenharper led Canada through turbulent economic times, balanced the budget, and made life more affordable for Canadian families,” Poilievre said in response to Harper’s message.
“I was proud to serve in his Cabinet, and it’s a big honour to have his support in this leadership race.”
Almost as soon as the leadership race began in February, speculation began about whether Harper would get involved or not, and how much of that had to do with Jean Charest’s candidacy.
The two men butted heads when Harper was prime minister and Charest was premier of Quebec, a post he took on after leaving the federal Progressive Conservative party. The federal PCs would go on to merge with the Canadian Alliance to form the current Conservative party of which Harper became the first leader.
Monday night, Charest tweeted a statement in response to Harper’s video, saying Harper was “successful in uniting the Conservative Party of Canada. As the leader of the CPC, I commit to doing the same.”
“Mr. Harper has made a personal choice,” Charest’s statement said. “He and his supporters will always be welcome in the CPC.”
The current leadership race is the third since Harper quit on election night 2015, and the first he has publicly waded into. “I haven’t talked to you like this in awhile, and much has transpired,” Harper said in his video about Poilievre.
“Our party, once again, has a leadership race underway. In this particular race, there has been a lot of speculation about whom I support or do not support and why. So it may be useful for my fellow party members to hear my views straight from me.”
Poilievre’s campaign had been eager to get Harper’s imprimatur, and the endorsement has been in the works for some time, sources told the Star.
Harper acknowledged, however, that not all Conservatives — including some friends — will agree with him.
Polievre has been the presumptive front-runner throughout the race, and polls suggest he has strong support from Conservative voters. While his campaign claims to have sold upwards of 311,000 members and have the majority of elected MPs on side, privately and publicly there are Conservatives turned off by his populist messaging which they criticize as devoid of substance.
However, an Angus Reid survey released Monday suggests Charest picks up more support from disaffected Liberals and NDP voters and would as leader nudge the Conservatives into the polling lead in Ontario, though a Conservative party led by either man would lead polls nationwide.
Poilievre and his broader campaign team have been fierce on their attacks against Charest throughout the race and did not let up Monday, sending a letter to party membership calling him a loser, and highlighting his various electoral defeats over the years.
Ballots for the leadership race are already in the mail and a winner is expected to be announced Sept. 10.
Poilievre’s main campaign promise to restore freedom to Canadians has been backed by several specific policies including speeding up energy projects, cancelling the carbon tax, incentivizing housing development and making it easier for newcomers to work in Canada.
Harper appointed Poilievre as parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board in 2006. The longtime MP went on to served as parliamentary secretary to Harper himself, and to the minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in 2008 to 2011, before going on to become parliamentary secretary to the Minster of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in 2011 to 2013.
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