Conservative elder statesman Deepak Obhrai enters Tory leadership race

Obhrai, 66, will be the fifth entrant in the contest that will conclude with a vote by party members next May

OTTAWA – As candidates from Ontario and Quebec have lined up to run for leadership of the federal Conservatives, many have wondered whether anyone from the party’s Western heartland was going to join them.

Well, now one is planning to — longtime Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai.

Obhrai, 66, will be the fifth entrant in the contest that will conclude with a vote by party members next May.

He is the longest continuously serving member of the Conservative team in the House of Commons.

During the Tories’ years in government, he held a number of junior cabinet positions in foreign affairs and, while on the opposition benches, he has also served as parliamentary critic on those files.

His Calgary office confirmed his plans to run, but provided no other details Friday.

Obhrai recently led the charge to have the party’s membership fees dropped, saying a planned hike would put the party at risk of becoming an “elitist, white-only club.”

He got a taste of leadership last fall when he presided over the party’s first post-election caucus meeting.

Obhrai assumed the role thanks to changes in parliamentary law requiring MPs to vote in that first meeting on how they govern themselves. The law said the vote was to be run by the MP with the longest period of unbroken service, which was Obhrai, who was first elected in 1997 as a Reform MP.

The changes were spearheaded by another Tory also running for leader, Michael Chong.

Obhrai is close to former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who has been thinking about launching his own leadership bid.

Earlier this week MacKay told The Canadian Press he had not yet made up his mind.

But the decisions this week by Obhrai and Ontario Tory MP Tony Clement to join the race are fuelling speculation MacKay isn’t going to make a bid.

Other candidates so far include Ontario MP Kellie Leitch and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier.

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