First results are expected around 7:30 p.m. ET. CBC News special coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET.
The Conservative Party of Canada will elect a new leader today after a months-long race that was marked at times by high drama and partisan infighting — but also saw a record-setting turnout.
To avoid a repeat of the last leadership election — when technical troubles delayed the final result until the early morning hours — the party started feeding the ballots through its counting machines earlier this week.
A team of party volunteers has been working around the clock to process the mountain of ballots cast for the five candidates in this race: Conservative MPs Scott Aitchison, Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former Ontario MPP Roman Baber.
A remarkable 417,987 ballots were to be counted this week, according to party figures — an unprecedented number for a Canadian political party contest.
Campaign scrutineers — officials from each of the leadership campaigns — have been carefully watching the process unfold to ensure the election's integrity.
"We don't have to worry about problems with the voting machine so the results should come out smoothly," said Rob Batherson, the party's president.
"There will be a button pressed and poof, we'll see the tabulation."
At each round of tabulation, the party will be announcing the number of points received by each candidate. First results are expected around 7:30 p.m. ET.
CBCNews.ca will carry the leadership election event live, with special coverage also on CBC radio, television and Gem. Here's how to watch and follow results.
Deadlocked with the Liberals
The new leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition will take the reins of a party that is eager to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and end his nearly seven-year-old government — which has been beset by problems in recent months like ongoing airport chaos, passport processing delays, a backlogged immigration system and sky-high inflation.
Despite those issues, recent federal polling suggests the the Liberals and the Conservatives are still running neck-and-neck.
And it may be years before the new Tory leader gets the chance to take on Trudeau in a general election because the confidence-and-supply agreement the prime minister signed with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh earlier this year could ensure the Liberals remain in power until the planned 2025 campaign.
Instead, the first task for the new leader is likely to be keeping the party from fracturing after a campaign that frequently got nasty.
The two front-runners, Poilievre and Charest, have traded barbs since this contest began in March.
Poilievre has accused Charest of being a closet Liberal, while Charest has slammed his opponent in turn as a radical who has sought the support of criminals associated with the Freedom Convoy.
Both candidates have framed the election as a fight for the party's identity — with the more moderate Charest on one side and the solidly right-wing and populist Poilievre on the other.
Batherson said bitter leadership campaigns are nothing new. He said he expects people will rally around the new leader to take on the common enemy: Trudeau.
"One thing I've heard from grassroots Conservative members from coast to coast to coast is a strong resolve to come out of this weekend united. There's a strong resolve to support the new leader and make the case for change," Batherson said.
"When the leader's elected, our attention has to change to election readiness."
While national polling suggests the currently leaderless Tories are in a dead heat with the Liberals — and there are questions about a possible split within the party itself — the Conservative Party's base is clearly energized.
A leadership campaign like no other
The five leadership contenders collectively sold an eye-popping number of memberships. Poilievre's campaign has claimed it sold in excess of 300,000 cards during this race.
From the 678,702 members who were deemed eligible to vote, the party received 437,854 ballots by the Tuesday deadline — a respectable 65 per cent turnout.
That means hundreds of thousands of Canadians were willing to spend $15 for an annual membership — and went through the sometimes cumbersome process of photocopying an acceptable ID and mailing it and their ballot back to party headquarters — to have their say in this leadership race.
These numbers are unmatched in Canadian political history.
More than twice as many votes were cast in this election than in the 2020 contest — another hotly contested leadership election that featured two former senior cabinet ministers and two well-organized newcomers.
It's more than four times the number of votes cast in the 2004 contest that elected former prime minister Stephen Harper to the party's top job.
It's also significantly more than the roughly 103,000 votes that were cast in the Liberal leadership contest of 2014, which saw Trudeau crowned party chief.
Kory Teneycke is an ex-staffer in Harper's office and Ontario Premier Doug Ford's former campaign manager.
He said tonight's event will be like a coronation because Poilievre sold so many of the new memberships.
"It won't be a dramatic event," Teneycke said.
"Obviously the people won't be sitting, waiting to see what the outcome will be. They'll be waiting to see how Pierre Poilievre positions himself and the party."
How to follow the leadership events on CBC
CBC.ca will have updates through the day and night and will stream live coverage beginning at 5 p.m. ET.
CBC News will carry a live special hosted by Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton, joined by Vassy Kapelos, starting at 5 p.m. ET on CBC News Network, CBC Gem and the CBC News app, and at 6 p.m. ET on CBC TV.
Listen to CBC Radio's special coverage, live from Ottawa, hosted by Susan Bonner and Catherine Cullen. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBC Radio One and the CBC Listen app.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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