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First the win, now the work: What Pierre Poilievre has to do next as new Tory leader

OTTAWA — Pierre Poilievre woke up Sunday with a list of things to do as he embarks on his first week as the Conservative party's new leader, while his former rivals offered assurances he could count on their support.
Newly elected Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks at the Conservative Party of Canada leadership vote, in Ottawa, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Pierre Poilievre woke up Sunday with a list of things to do as he embarks on his first week as the Conservative party's new leader, while his former rivals offered assurances he could count on their support.

The 43-year-old walked out of the convention centre in Ottawa where the party's leadership election results were revealed Saturday night with a massive victory. Poilievre won nearly 70 per cent of members' support on a first-ballot victory against four other candidates. On top of that, a riding-by-riding breakdown shows he won almost all of the country's 338 ridings. 

One of the most stunning parts of his win was his success in Quebec, where Poilievre, who is a fluent French-speaker, captured nearly all ridings over the province's former premier Jean Charest.

Charest congratulated Poilievre in a video posted to social media on Sunday, adding he plans to return to life in the private sector but will stay active in the party.

Charest took a leave of absence from his role as partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP in order to enter the race. 

"Now is time for us to prepare the next election campaign and to unite," Charest said in his video, "unite behind the new leader."

"I will continue to be a member of the party and I will continue to fight for the ideas that I put forward during this leadership race." 

His former campaign co-chair said Charest has no intention of running as a candidate in the next federal election. Mike Coates made the comment in an opinion piece that appeared Sunday in the National Post, where he also poured cold water on the idea the Charest team has plans to form a separate party now that Poilievre has won. 

Speculations about such a move surfaced during the leadership contest because some centrists and progressives feared the direction Poilievre would take the party, given his support for the right-wing populism that coursed through last winters' trucker convoy. 

"The membership has spoken," Coates wrote. "It is time for partisans to do what we do best: Unite."

Poilievre's victory in Quebec comes after almost all 10 members of Parliament endorsed Charest in the race. Joel Godin, one of those MPs, previously mused he would need to think about his political future if Poilievre were to win. 

Getting the Quebec MPs on side is one of the tasks facing Poilievre. He was expected to meet with the entire caucus on Monday, which will also be a chance to hammer out their priorities for the fall.

The clock is ticking down to when the House of Commons is set to resume sitting in nine days. 

That means Poilievre must decide who his critics will be. He has no shortage of people to choose from, given that 62 out of the other 118 Conservative MPs backed him in race.

One of the questions he faces is where to place the MPs who were former leadership rivals: Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis.

Aitchison, a rural Ontario MP first elected in 2019, placed last in the race, earning only about one per cent of the party's support. 

Lewis is also reckoning with Saturday's results. 

She earnedonly about nine per cent of support after blowing past expectations of many party members with her strong third-place showing in the 2020 leadership contest, which she entered as a fresh face before running to become an MP.

In a message posted to her campaign website Sunday, Lewis said she looks forward to serving under Poilievre's leadership and that "it's time now for our party to come together and unify."

Lewis is herself a challenging figure. On one hand, she's proven to be popular with the grassroots and is backed by the party's social conservative wing. On the other hand, some of her messaging has raised concerns, with critics saying it too closely flirts with conspiracy theories around COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the World Economic Forum. 

Anti-abortion organization Campaign Life Coalition is calling on Poilievre to pick Lewis to serve in one of his senior critic roles. 

Doing so would show respect to the party's social conservative wing, it said. 

Poilievre used his victory speech to reach out to the supporters of Lewis, Charest, Aitchison as well as former Ontario MPP Roman Baber, who entered the contest as a largely unknown figure and finished with just over five per cent of support. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept, 11, 2022. 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press