Pierre Poilievre’s two main rivals in the federal Conservative leadership race are accusing the perceived front runner of inflating the number of party memberships he claims to have sold in advance of the Sept. 10 vote to decide the next party leader.
Mr. Poilievre’s campaign has said it signed up 311,958 new members by the June 3 deadline, more than the record 269,469 people who were eligible to vote in the 2020 race won by Erin O’Toole.
Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., said his campaign had signed up more than 150,000 members, while former Progressive Conservative party leader and ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest said he has signed up tens of thousands. Neither have released an exact number, nor have candidates Leslyn Lewis, Scott Aitchison or Roman Baber.
On Sunday, both Mr. Brown and Mr. Charest took aim at Mr. Poilievre’s numbers. “I don’t believe there’s 312,000,″ Mr. Brown told The Globe and Mail, calling Mr. Poilievre’s tally “mathematically impossible.”
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“I just don’t see it on the ground,” Mr. Brown added. “I think the claims are unrealistic given the size of what we know of what the existing membership was and what the other camps have signed up.” He said Mr. Poilievre’s campaign “just put a number out there,” calling it “a campaign tactic. There’s no way those numbers are accurate.”
Asked why anyone should believe his numbers, Mr. Brown said “we were very proud” of the 150,000-plus tally claimed, which his campaign announced before the deadline, as well as his record for membership signups when he campaigned to be Ontario Conservative leader.
Mr. Charest, meanwhile, said on CTV’s Question Period: “At the rate it’s going, we call it Pierreinflation in terms of recruiting members. I think he’s recruiting members in the state of Maine and New Hampshire if you’re to follow his logic.” A campaign spokesperson declined a request for further comment.
Jenni Byrne, a senior strategist with Mr. Poilievre’s campaign, said the two rivals “are trying to justify the fact they didn’t sell as many memberships as us and trying to explain why they’re not releasing their numbers. I think it’s either wishful thinking of the Jean Charest campaign and I think it’s outright lying in terms of the Patrick Brown campaign.”
As for Mr. Charest’s comment about U.S.-based members, she bluntly dismissed it using an expletive term.
The party last week estimated that more than 600,000 people could be eligible to vote for leader, which would set a record for the largest number of paid members of any political party in Canadian history, party president Robert Batherson said.
That figure could shrink after the party spends the next few weeks processing and verifying signups. A preliminary list will then be sent to the campaigns to review and potentially challenge names before a final list is circulated so they can woo all eligible voters.
Most campaigns have called for early access to the member list but the Poilievre campaign is opposed on the grounds that it would disadvantage the candidate that sold the most memberships and result in a “free-for-all” before the list is final, Ms. Byrne said.
Membership sales do not necessarily correlate to a candidate’s chances. Mr. Charest noted Sunday that each of the 338 federal ridings with 100 or more party members is accorded 100 points in the race, meaning those with sparse signups have the same say as those rich in members.
“Our view is that the race is decided by points, not the number of members,” he said. “We’ve based all our campaign on having a broad base of support across the country in all the ridings.”
The Poilievre campaign says its support is widespread and not just concentrated in traditional strongholds. It claims to have signed up 119,000 members in Ontario, 25,453 in Quebec, 121,000-plus in Alberta and B.C. combined, nearly 27,000 between Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 16,525 in Atlantic Canada.
Ms. Byrne further provided a breakdown of membership sales to underscore the campaign’s breadth of support. For example, she said the campaign sold 271 memberships in Madawaska-Restigouche in New Brunswick and 774 in Peter McKay’s former Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova; In Quebec, the campaign signed up 497 in Rivière-des-Mille-îles, 705 in Vaudreuil-Solange and 817 in Pontiac ridings.
“I understand the points system very well,” she said, “but I don’t think he [Mr. Charest] understands that the memberships we sold are vast across the country based on riding distribution.”
Editor’s note: The number of memberships sold in the Pontiac riding has been corrected in the online version of this story.
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