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Simcoe North MP throws support behind Lisa Raitt for Conservative leadership

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Conservative leadership hopeful Lisa Raitt toured Simcoe North with MP Bruce Stanton Wednesday.

ANDREW PHILIPS/SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA NETWORK Conservative leadership hopeful Lisa Raitt toured Simcoe North with MP Bruce Stanton Wednesday.

Like many other Canadians, Lisa Raitt is still waiting for the throng hoping to become the Conservatives' new leader to thin out a bit.

With 14 running to replace former leader and prime minister Stephen Harper, Raitt said it's difficult for any of the perceived front-runners to go toe-to-toe and effectively discuss policy issues.

"We're all still in it," said Raitt, who toured the riding with stops including Coldwater and Orillia Wednesday with MP Bruce Stanton.

But the Milton MP said only those with a real shot of winning should remain on the ballot since it's diluting the conversation.

"If you want in this race, you should be able to lead," Raitt said, noting one of the candidates even recently acknowledged he has no chance of winning.

"The top contenders aren't being challenged or pressured. A five- or six-person race is better. The next leader will be taking a hard look at how this unfolded. No one is happy with the process."

That day will come next month, when Raitt and the 13 other candidates find out whether they've done enough to secure the party reins.

The Conservatives are using a different kind of system to elect their new leader. Each of the 338 federal ridings is allotted 100 points. Eligible voters in each riding then rank the candidates from first to tenth (should be to fourteenth) with the candidate with highest point total winning the race.

Stanton has endorsed Raitt as his choice to lead the party against Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election.

"Lisa's my top choice," Stanton said, noting Raitt is a natural leader and brings a great deal of experience, compassion and common sense to the table.

"I look for the known values that people bring to leadership. You get that more with Lisa than with any of the other candidates."

Raitt, who grew up in Cape Breton and feels she could help the party make inroads in the traditionally Liberal region, said the ongoing federal deficit remains the biggest challenge for any future leader.

She said former finance minister Jim Flaherty understood the importance of controlling the deficit while also spending money on essential infrastructure and projects to better the country.

As an example of the need to control the deficit, Raitt said the country is currently carrying annual debt services at a 0.5% interest rate.

"Imagine if it goes to 3%," she said, noting homeowners carrying mortgages can understand just how much havoc that kind of increase would bring to the country if the deficit isn't tackled now. "It's a big piece, a big number."

Raitt also plans to lower taxes through tax cuts for all Canadians and small businesses while also axing the carbon tax and raising the upper limit on tax free savings account contributions. As well, she pledged to balance the budget while reducing the size of the federal government.

Raitt also discussed some of her leadership challengers, including another perceived front-runner, Kevin O'Leary.

"He would be really tough to go door-to-door with," she said. "You've got a lot of negativity (with him)."

And as for Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch, who replaced her as labour minister in Harper's government when Raitt moved to the transport portfolio, Raitt said she never heard Leitch discuss anything even remotely close to her controversial immigrant screening plan when they were colleagues.

"We've never had these conversations," Raitt said. "Kellie Leitch has taken a completely different tact. She chose a path; it's a path I wouldn't choose."

Raitt said that being a small 'c' Conservative often left her feeling like the "leader of the opposition" while in Harper's government.

"My record is competency. A true Ontario Conservative is really sharp on the financial side, but with a kind heart."

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