OTTAWA — Roman Baber is asking Conservative party members to give him a second look — not just think of him as their second choice.
The former Ontario legislator — best known before the race for being removed from Ontario Premier Doug Ford's caucus over opposing COVID-19 lockdowns in early 2021 — released a policy document Wednesday highlighting the promises he's made around themes including democracy and natural resources.
Baber, who has broadened his fight of COVID-19 health measures to vaccine mandates, points to pledges such as cancelling agricultural supply management and federal equalization payments to the provinces as "material differences" between himself and the two candidates he may find himself trailing on the ballot.
One being Pierre Poilievre, the party's longtime Ottawa-area MP and the contest's perceived front-runner, whose campaign has been centred around the very word freedom.
Another is Leslyn Lewis, a social Conservative MP from Ontario, who also speaks against COVID-19 health measures and in support of last winter's convoy protests after placing third in the party's 2020 leadership race.
"A lot of Conservative members appreciate that I took a principled position in defence of Canadians over the last couple of years when it was unpopular," Baber said in a recent interview.
"But they're not prepared to mark me as their No. 1, as of yet."
He's now embarking on what he calls an "educational campaign" with party members on how the ranked balloting system works, telling them they don't need to worry about splitting the vote.
"If you mark me (second) after a more popular candidate, then I will not get your (second) vote. That's (because) I'll likely fall off the ballot before a more popular candidate," he tweeted Tuesday.
He went on to ask them to "switch" and pick him first.
As for his political future, Baber said he will make his decision once the race is over.
"We're focused on a strong finish."
His efforts to cajole members into his court comes as voting is already underway and other candidates seek to do the same.
With the party having mailed most of the more than 670,000 ballots out to members, it began the process this week of ensuring the ones that have been sent back are valid — checking, for example, that members sent in a copy of their driver's licence.
The results will be revealed in Ottawa on Sept. 10.
New Canadians are among the potential supporters some candidates have been reaching out to, a segment of the population Conservative insiders believe the party must do more to attract after the contest.
Questions hang over what will happen to the thousands of new party members Patrick Brown claimed to have signed up before he was disqualified from the race. He ran a campaign focused on finding Conservatives from racialized and immigrant communities, saying after he was ousted that he felt ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest was best suited to defeat Poilievre.
Lewis has also appealed to Brown's supporters.
A Black immigrant from Jamaica, she recently emailed party members railing against what she described as the categorization of people under the label of the so-called ethnic vote.
She said it's a problem when people, including those inside the party, see voters as belonging to a single block.
"Patrick Brown could not deliver the 'ethnic vote.' He was free, as all of us leadership candidates are, to make an appeal to the Conservative values that they have. But they did not belong to him," she wrote.
"Can I deliver the so-called ethnic vote to our party in the next election? I have done so in the past, and I can do it again. But not because I fit some checkbox. Because I treat people like everyone else."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2022
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press