Ontario MP Kellie Leitch's bid for the leadership of the Conservative party has suffered its first setback with the arrest of her campaign manager on impaired driving charges.

Nick Kouvalis had been working for weeks on ramping up Leitch's campaign, but resigned after a car crash near Windsor, Ont., that led to him being charged with impaired driving and having a blood alcohol level over the legal limit.

The longtime political strategist, who also worked on campaigns for Toronto mayors Rob Ford and John Tory, acknowledged Monday on Twitter that he's been grappling with alcohol addiction since 2011.

"I was hopeful that after a stint in rehab and regular attendance at AA meetings that I had it under control. It has become apparent I do not," Kouvalis wrote.

No one was injured in the early morning crash Sunday, which police described as Kouvalis driving his grey Lexus off the road and into a concrete culvert. He is expected in court May 4.

"I am grateful I have received this timely wake up call and look forward to starting my journey to permanent sobriety," he said.

In a statement Tuesday, Leitch said she counts Kouvalis and his family among her friends.

"I respect Nick for addressing this issue in the same honest and forthright manner that I know him to live by and I wish him and his family all of the best," she said.

When Leitch filed the papers with the Conservative party to enter the contest she billed it as the launch of an "exploratory" committee to assess whether there was room for her to actually run for the top job.

But Kouvalis had been working behind the scenes for over a month mapping out a strategy bearing all the hallmarks of an actual campaign in progress: a network of regional chairs, running a national tour with Leitch and then and so-called "secondary" tours in which high profile supporters would be out on Leitch's behalf, raising the millions of dollars required to make it all happen.

About 8,000 donors are going to be required, he told a nearly hour-long conference call with Leitch and about 170 organizers earlier this month.

"It's a 14 month campaign, it's a significant enterprise," he said.

Sander Grieve, who is co-chairing Leitch's campaign, said Kouvalis will be missed but the nature of a 14-month campaign means everyone has to be prepared to move in and out of different roles, he said.

"There is only one person on the campaign that is not replaceable," he said.

A replacement for Kouvalis, meanwhile, has not been named.

While Leitch was first to file the paperwork, she's not alone in the race.

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier has also submitted his application to the party and Ontario MP Michael Chong is expected to file his any day, with MP Tony Clement also nearing the final stages of putting together his bid.

The Canadian Press

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