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Chris Alexander to run for Conservative leadership

Chris Alexander answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 12, 2014.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former immigration minister Chris Alexander is adding his name to those considering a run for leadership of the federal Conservative party.

"I'm actively considering a bid to lead the Conservative Party of Canada and excited by the exchanges I'm having about how to renew and reinvigorate our party," he told The Canadian Press late Thursday.

The 48-year-old former ambassador to Afghanistan was seen as a rising star when he ran for the Conservatives in the Toronto-area riding of Ajax-Pickering in 2011. Two years later, Stephen Harper brought him into the cabinet as immigration minister.

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But Alexander became embroiled in controversy during last year's election campaign amid questions about the government's handling of the Syrian refugee crisis.

He was also criticized for promising, along with then-labour minister Kellie Leitch, to create a telephone tip line for "barbaric cultural practices."

Alexander ended up losing to Liberal Mark Holland in the newly created riding of Ajax. Leitch was re-elected, and is one of five registered leadership candidates.

Despite his election loss, Alexander had intended to run again for the Conservatives in 2019, believing the party could do far better than it did last October if it developed a bolder and more inclusive agenda.

But in recent weeks, he also began testing the waters for a leadership bid.

Kevin Ashe, a regional councillor in Pickering and former member of Alexander's riding association, said he was asked this week to sign a leadership nomination form for Alexander.

"I've been directly asked to do that, to sign," Ashe told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "They're doing whatever has to be done to formalize a run for the leadership."

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Alexander's motivation to run for leadership is the current field of candidates.

He told an acquaintance from Buzzfeed this week that the group was "uninspiring."

Leitch and fellow MPs Michael Chong, Tony Clement, Maxime Bernier and Deepak Obhrai are all in the race.

With the exception of Obhrai, they are all cabinet veterans.

Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay, former cabinet ministers and potential heavyweights, have passed on the race. Kenney is seeking the Conservative leadership in Alberta and MacKay says he wants more time with his young family.

Alexander isn't the only Toronto-area Conservative looking to join the leadership race. Former veterans affairs minister Erin O'Toole and Lisa Raitt, who served as natural resources, labour and transport minister, are weighing the idea.

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Alexander was Canada's first ambassador to Afghanistan, serving in the war torn country from 2003 to 2005, before becoming the United Nations' second-in-command in the country. He returned to Canada in 2009 and was approached to run for office by both the Liberals and Conservatives.

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