Poilievre has the crowds, who has the memberships?

Federal Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre signs a sign for a supporter during a gathering at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver Thursday, April 7, 2022. Those watching the race chiefdoms are keeping a close eye on the crowds at the candidate events, but what really matters, analysts say, are memberships. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

With 10 days left for candidates to enter the Conservative Party leadership race – and 20 days before the $300,000 fee is due – what’s been catching the attention of those watching lately, this are the crowds.

Specifically, who attracts them and who doesn’t.

Pierre Poilievre would fall into the first category, as the longtime Ottawa-area MP regularly appears before massive groups of people at rallies across the country.

“The kind of appeal he has for getting people out is unparalleled,” said Connor Hollingshead, president of the Simon Fraser University campus conservative club, who says he doesn’t approve of anyone.

Poilievre recently addressed students in Vancouver at a co-hosted event with the Conservatives at the University of British Columbia. Later that Thursday, he addressed a rally crowd that his campaign said had grown to more than 1,000 people.

Staying late to smile for photos and wave to those who have lined up to meet him is also common at events, as is selling memberships.

Signing up new members and then doing the follow-up work to make sure they fill out their ballots correctly and send everything in on time is what successful leadership campaigns are all about.

As of Saturday, applicants have less than two months to register members before the June 3 deadline.

Among the buzz generated around Poilievre, who was the first to enter the contest, is one who attends its events.

Not only are conservative loyalists flocking, but also those who don’t usually attend political events, including those under 40.

“The Poilievre movement has taken off across the country, and this is just the beginning,” tweeted Senator Leo Housakos, his campaign co-chair.

Hollingshead says he’s seen some of that firsthand. About 150 people, mostly students, came to the event on campus. He said it was the biggest crowd they had seen in five years, when reality TV star Kevin O’Leary ran for the party’s top job in 2017.

“It’s definitely a different breed of politicians,” Hollingshead said of Poilievre. “He talks about a lot of the frustrations that young people have in this country.”

Standing up against the price of a house is one of its key messages. In Vancouver, Poilievre also pledged to respect free speech in universities, at one point joking that a sudden loud noise was censors coming for him.

When he promised to cut funding from the CBC – a popular Conservative rallying cry – the crowd cheered. He also peppered his speech with mentions of historical figures like Winston Churchill and John Diefenbaker.

For UBC graduate student Avril Lee, it’s not just what Poilievre says, but how he says it.

“My mum is on Instagram and we both follow Pierre…and we easily watch his videos daily. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious. His message is very clear and simple.”

Longtime Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis, who remains neutral in the race, says Poilievre’s crowds are impressive, comparing them to the support seen around Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

The key will be to turn that into memberships, she says.

But Paradis cautioned that photos from the room don’t always give the full picture of what’s happening on a campaign.

“Andrew Scheer won 2017 leadership in church basements. No one took pictures of his rallies,” she said Friday.

“When you don’t see people coming out, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. On the contrary, they are like a duck: they are smooth and calm on the surface, but they kick their little feet as fast as they can under water.”

One candidate who has kept a lower public profile and is known for his turmoil in conservative circles is Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who was recently added to the official list of candidates after submitting his first $50,000 fee. $ and reaches other thresholds stipulated by the party.

“Patrick has attended nearly 200 events over the past three weeks and is thrilled with the number of memberships that have been sold out,” campaign spokesman Jeff Silverstein said Friday.

Michelle Coates Mather, spokeswoman for Jean Charest’s campaign, said the former Quebec premier had 1,500 volunteers, 400 organizers and was approaching $1 million in fundraising for the campaign.

“The constant obsession with the status of our campaign on Twitter only confirms to us that some of our opponents are afraid of our momentum,” she wrote in an email to The Canadian Press, referring to how some compared his crowd size to that of Poilievre. .

“At the end of the day, tweets are just tweets, crowd photos are just photos, it’s follower sales that matter.”

Paradis says members like to pick winners, and photos of packed houses can be a source of motivation for supporters and volunteers.

Leslyn Lewis, who placed third in the party’s 2020 leadership race and is popular with the social conservative wing of the party, recently announced that she had raised the $300,000 needed to be on the ballot of voting.

She too has taken to the road, campaigning in communities across the Prairies and more recently in Calgary and Red Deer, Alberta, sometimes attracting hundreds of people and selling memberships at her events.

“We’ve had great turnout at Leslyn events and are encouraged to see such engagement across campaigns,” campaign manager Steve Outhouse wrote in an email.

“Having several strong candidates bringing in new members bodes very well for our party’s fortunes in the upcoming election.”

The candidates are due to go face-to-face for what will likely be the first time on May 5 at a leadership debate hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network to kick off its annual conference in Ottawa.

Poilievre, Lewis and Charest have confirmed they will go, as have MP Marc Dalton and Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 9, 2022

— By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa and Brenna Owen in Vancouver

Christy J. Olson