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Conservative leadership field grows to six as Derek Sloan, Jim Karahalios become official candidates

Rookie Ontario MP Derek Sloan, left, and Ontario political activist Jim Karahalios are the latest official candidates for the  the Conservative leadership.
Rookie Ontario MP Derek Sloan, left, and Ontario political activist Jim Karahalios are the latest official candidates for the the Conservative leadership.

OTTAWA — With the cut-off date to enter the Conservative leadership race quickly approaching, two more entries have brought the field of candidates to six, and it could grow larger yet.

However, the Feb. 27 deadline — which requires a $25,000 fee and 1,000 party member signatures — is also the easiest one to meet. To get onto the final ballot, candidates still face the much tougher test of raising $300,000 and collecting 3,000 party signatures by March 25.

Derek Sloan, a rookie MP representing a rural Ontario riding, and Jim Karahalios, an Ontario political activist, have now both been approved by the party to run. They join Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, Marilyn Gladu and Leslyn Lewis as official candidates.

Meanwhile, the party has also announced its two official leadership debates: an English-language one in Toronto on April 17, and a French-language one in Toronto on April 23. The party deliberately scheduled these debates after the March 25 deadline so that only candidates who have successfully raised the money and signatures to get onto the final ballot will be participating. The debates will be live-streamed on the party’s website. Moderators have not yet been announced.

There will likely be additional debates organized by private organizations, media outlets and local riding associations. In the 2017 race, there were 11 non-official debates.

Three of the six official candidates so far — Lewis, Sloan and Karahalios — have the backing of the Campaign Life Coalition and other social-conservative organizations who have been collecting signatures for their supported candidates.

Sloan’s candidate biography, posted on the party’s website, puts a heavy emphasis on religious liberty and freedom of speech.

“Without a definite turn, our country is heading on a dangerous path that will involve the elimination of charitable status to churches that don’t have politically correct teachings on sexuality, marriage and gender, and will also likely make preaching certain things illegal,” Sloan’s biography says.

“No areas are off limits, as Leader Derek will encourage MPs to vigorously discuss and debate any issue, including the long overdue discussion on abortion in Canada…Derek is standing for the leadership because he believes this country is under siege by a tide of political progressivism that seeks to destroy Canada, and he knows that the quickest way to lose such a war is to pretend you’re not in one.”

No areas are off limits

Karahalios is running as an anti-establishment candidate, arguing the Conservatives should avoid electing “another career politician” as leader. Although best known for his “Axe the Carbon Tax” campaign he fought against Patrick Brown’s Ontario PC Party, Karahalios has also battled party officials over allegations they ran fraudulent nomination contests. He’s currently suing the provincial party for alleged ballot-box stuffing during his unsuccessful run for party president in 2019.

In a recent interview, Karahalios told the National Post that he believes the party’s establishment is “totally offside with the membership and the voters,” and he’ll be running on issues that speak to the grassroots base, particularly when it comes to opposing carbon taxes.

A handful of other candidates are still expecting to get in the race, including Alberta businessman Rick Peterson and former political staffer Rudy Husny. The campaign team for Richard Décarie, who has strong backing from social conservatives, says his materials have been submitted but they haven’t yet heard from the party.

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