OTTAWA—Peter MacKay’s Conservative leadership campaign said Monday the party’s deputy leader wasn’t promised a similarly high-profile position in the House of Commons in exchange for supporting MacKay for the top job.
Leona Alleslev had been expected to remain neutral in the contest, but announced late Sunday she didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and resigned as deputy leader, a post she’d held since the last federal election.
Monday morning, she declared she is backing MacKay.
“Canada faces an uncertain future. Canada needs a leader who has the experience and a plan to tackle the priorities of our time,” Alleslev said on social media.
“That is why Peter MacKay has my support.”
Voting in the leadership race is underway. A new leader will be elected in August.
Should MacKay win, he’ll have to appoint someone to lead the party in the House of Commons in his stead, as he does not currently have a seat.
Given Alleslev’s past role within caucus, questions immediately surfaced whether she’d already been tapped for that job.
“Absolutely not,” MacKay campaign spokesperson Chisholm Pothier said in an email.
“Those are decisions for once he’s leader.”
Alleslev declined a request for an interview on Monday, but in a statement said her only conversations with MacKay have been about his credentials for the leadership job.
“Service to country before my personal needs is who I am at my core,” she said.
“My loyalty can’t be bought, it must be earned.”
Alleslev has been part of a team helping current leader Andrew Scheer guide the Opposition’s operations in the House.
The task took on additional weight once Scheer announced in December he was stepping back pending the election of his replacement.
To try to keep the politics of the race off at least the front benches, and avoid any sense that Scheer’s office was meddling in the race, members of his “leadership team” were not to publicly endorse any candidates.
In her resignation letter, Alleslev said she felt compelled to break ranks.
“The selection of the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is too important a decision for me to stand to the side,” she wrote to Scheer.
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Alleslev was elected as a Liberal in 2015 and crossed the floor to the Tories in 2018, saying she no longer shared the Liberal vision on a number of policies.
She was appointed deputy leader after the 2019 election, having succeeded in winning her Toronto-area seat of Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill for the party when so many other Conservative candidates failed to do the same in nearby ridings.
Among the casualties: Lisa Raitt, who was the deputy leader headed into that campaign, but lost her seat in Milton, just west of Toronto, to the Liberals.
Alleslev was billed by Scheer as having some of the same political oomph as Raitt: female and from a Greater Toronto Area seat.
In turn, she was held up as proof the party did still have support in the area and could win more come the next election.
MacKay’s campaign said much the same about Alleslev on Monday.
“She’s a great person to have supporting us. Served the country in the military, accomplished in her career after that and before politics, and was elected as a Conservative in a suburban Toronto riding, where very few did and we need to next election,” Pothier said.
MacKay lives in Toronto now, though in the next general election is expected to return to his Nova Scotia home and seek to run in a riding in that province.
Erin O’Toole, one of his competitors, has represented the suburban-Toronto riding of Durham as an MP since 2012.
He often makes the pitch to party members the fact he’s held that seat for so long is proof he can woo more voters from the region the next time.
Leslyn Lewis, who has never held elected office, currently lives in the Toronto suburbs and did once run in a Toronto riding, losing to the Liberals.
The fourth competitor, Derek Sloan, is the MP for the rural Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington.