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Top local Tories endorse MacKay, O'Toole

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Two prominent Leeds and Grenville Conservatives on Friday endorsed Peter MacKay as their federal leader while a third has thrown his support behind Erin O’Toole.

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Local MPP Steve Clark and former senator Bob Runciman say that MacKay is the best person to replace Andrew Scheer as Tory leader while MP Michael Barrett backs O’Toole for the job.

Barrett said that O’Toole has served Canada with distinction as an air force captain and as veterans’ affairs minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet. He is also a friend to Leeds and Grenville Conservatives for participating in a successful fundraiser at the home of Nancy Casselman in August of 2019, the MP said in a statement.

“Erin is a deeply committed family man who understands the worries and hopes of Canadians first hand,” said Barrett, adding that O’Toole has the “qualities and commitment that our leader must have to win the next election.”

In a joint statement, Clark and Runciman said they are squarely behind MacKay.

Clark said MacKay is the strong leader that Canada needs to steer it through the current health and economic crisis.

“His experience and ability to connect with and relate to everyday people from coast to coast sets him apart from any other candidate,” Clark said. “Knowing Peter as I do, I believe he is the strong and proven leader that Conservatives and Canadians need in these uncertain times.”

Runciman said he likes and admires MacKay after he got to know him while serving in the Senate.

“He is undoubtedly the most qualified candidate to lead the Conservative Party and to be Canada’s next prime minister,” Runciman said. “And, on top of that, he is a warm, friendly, caring, genuine people person.”

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MacKay was one of the dignitaries who attended the funeral of Runiciman’s wife, Jeannette, who died in February after being hit by a car backing out of the Brockville General Hospital parking lot.

The three local Conservative heavy-hitters made their endorsements in advance of the May 15 deadline for new members to join to be eligible to vote for the leader.

The vote, originally scheduled for June 27, will be held by mail-in ballot in August. All ballots must be mailed and received by August 21 when the counting will begin.

There are four leadership candidates: Leslyn Lewis, a Toronto lawyer and former candidate in Scarborough, MacKay, former minister of justice, defence and foreign affairs in the Harper government and a former leader of the Progressive Conservatives, O’Toole, MP for Durham, former veterans’ affairs minister, a lawyer and former air force captain, and Derek Sloan, MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington and a lawyer.

Tory Deschamps, president of the Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Conservative Association, said the party’s membership is robust after the nomination battle to replace the late MP Gord Brown, the subsequent byelection that elected Barrett and last year’s federal vote. He said there have been some new members who signed up in advance of the leadership race, but their numbers are not significant.

Deschamps said that he and the riding executive have not endorsed a candidate.

wlowrie@postmedia.com

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