Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, who is his party's finance critic and one of its most influential voices in Quebec, has endorsed the leadership bid of his caucus colleague Erin O'Toole.
Mr. Deltell made the announcement alongside Mr. O'Toole Friday morning, saying it was the culmination of a long reflection that included meetings with all 13 other leadership candidates.
"I hope that people will take the time to look at the program, to look at the platform, to look at the quality of Mr. O'Toole, and I am sure that people will come to the same conclusion," Mr. Deltell said. "The best man, the best person, to lead this party and then this country is the Honourable Erin O'Toole."
While Mr. Deltell is a rookie MP, the former Quebec MNA and provincial party leader has quickly proven to be a media-savvy politician on the federal stage. Before entering politics, he was a television journalist in his hometown of Quebec City, where he helped the party win a majority of seats in the 2015 election.
Mr. Deltell's endorsement is expected to boost the profile in Quebec of Mr. O'Toole, a former minister of veterans affairs in the Harper government. The pair said they will be meeting party members in coming weeks in ridings across the province.
Support in Quebec is key in the May 27 leadership race. The province is favoured in the voting system that gives each riding equal weight in the final tally, even though dozens of ridings in the province have fewer than 30 members each.
Mr. O'Toole is not currently seen as a front-runner in the leadership race, but his campaign is offering a traditional small-c conservative platform that aims to unite members from across the political spectrum in the party.
At the news conference, Mr. O'Toole said the voting may well go into three or four rounds, which means that voters' second and third choices in the preferential ballot could have a significant influence on the outcome. He said his priority at this point is to lead a "strong and united party with a positive outlook."
"There is a lot of time between today and May 27," Mr. O'Toole said. "We have a strong team from coast to coast, it is even stronger in Quebec now… There is positive swell towards me, and Gérard will be our big boost."
Mr. Deltell is the first Quebec-based MP to support Mr. O'Toole, who has shown an ability to speak French but will be expected to continue working on his second language if he wins the leadership. Mr. O'Toole suggested he will receive additional caucus endorsements from Quebec, but he did not say if it would come from an MP who has yet to endorse anyone or one who is thinking of switching camps.
To this point, Conservative MPs from Quebec had only endorsed the leadership bids of Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer, who are currently engaged in a tough fight for members in rural parts of the province. Mr. Bernier has promised to get rid of supply management in the agricultural sector, while Mr. Scheer is trying to win support among proponents of the system.
Mr. O'Toole made it clear that he also supports supply management.