Ontario PC Leadership Election

The Top Line

The Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party has chosen the rules and format for a tightly-timed leadership contest to replace former leader Patrick Brown on March 10, three months before the impending Provincial election.  The Party has also taken action to ensure a stable policy platform for the election.

Brown, who until recently seemed poised to be Ontario’s next Premier, resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Now, the Party’s Executive has charted a quick course to a leadership vote.  The rules for the contest, announced on Wednesday by the Leadership Election Organization Committee (LEOC), establish a clear path forward for the Party and, for the leadership candidates, certainly offer the quickest route to becoming Premier that has been seen in decades.

Earlier in the week, Interim Leader Vic Fedeli announced that he will not seek the permanent leadership – citing a need to focus on resolving internal party matters, including suspected membership and spending irregularities and a hack of the Party’s database.  In fact, no sitting MPP has announced their intention to run for leader.  Although nobody will be an official candidate until they are accepted by the Party, the contest has attracted several high-profile candidates, including Christine Elliott, Doug Ford, Carolyn Mulroney, and Rod Phillips

Key Facts and Dates

The leadership race kicks off immediately, having been backdated to January 26, the day that an election was approved by the PC Party Executive.  Voting will occur electronically from March 2 to March 8 – leaving one month for campaigning – and the new leader will be announced on March 10.  Those thinking about running must officialize their candidacy by February 16.  Party memberships can be sold, to people who will be eligible to vote in the election, until February 18.

The entry fee is $100,000 ($75,000 plus a compliance deposit of $25,000 and a Voter List Integrity Security Access Fee of another $25,000).  Those fees and the short membership sales period are meant to limit the race to a small number of candidates who already have strong ties to the Party.

The contest rules also require that prospective candidates must:

  1. Confirm that they support the aims, principles, and objectives of the policy resolutions adopted through the Party’s 2017 policy process and;
  2. Be approved by the Party’s nomination committee as qualified to run in a riding in Election 2018.

Those rules create a screening process for leadership candidates and provide the Party with a discretionary veto power.

Prospective Candidates

Christine Elliott: A former MPP and a two-time PC leadership candidate, Elliott enjoys the support of many in the PC caucus.  After resigning as an MPP in 2015, Elliott was appointed as Ontario’s first Patient Ombudsman by the Government, which would blunt Liberal attacks on her in Election 2018.  Not being a sitting MPP or a nominated candidate, Elliott will need to be approved by the Nomination Committee.

Doug Ford: A former Toronto City Councilor and brother of the late Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.  Ford is likely to run on an urban populism agenda and can draw on longstanding, dedicated support for the Ford family brand, particularly in the suburbs of Toronto.  Ford has also announced his intention to seek the PC nomination in Etobicoke North, and will require approval by the Nomination Committee.

Caroline Mulroney: The PC candidate in York-Simcoe, North of Toronto, Mulroney is a Harvard graduate, a lawyer (educated at York University’s Osgoode Hall), and a co-founder of the Shoebox Project (a non-profit which provides toiletries to women living in shelters).  Her name brand, as the daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, strong resume, and experienced team make her a top contender.

Rod Phillips: The PC candidate in Ajax-Pickering, Phillips previously served as Chair of CivcAction (a leadership foundation for the Toronto and Hamilton area), President of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., and Chair of Postmedia.  He was Chief of Staff to former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman and is a long-serving PC volunteer.

What This Means for You

With 125 days until Ontario goes to the polls, PC Party members may now be choosing the next Premier.  The leadership contest is a chance for the PCs to spotlight the Party’s policies and vision for government, before facing competition for attention from the Liberals and NDP.  However, there is a risk that the race will make the Party appear divided and not ready to form a government.

While leadership contests can be divisive, the Party has clearly structured this contest not to be so.  Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the new leader will have a tremendous impact on the dynamic of Election 2018.  Polls indicate that the PC Party is still leading that race; however, the landscape has likely become more competitive.