If Kathleen Wynne is still the premier of Ontario in the weeks following the June 7 election, she should write a thank-you note to the Progressive Conservatives. I think each and every one of the 64,000-odd Tories who voted in this leadership contest would appreciate the courtesy.
On Saturday, party members gathered in Markham with the intention of celebrating the election of a new leader — and, given the Tories’ lead in the polls, of the likely next premier. Instead, the evening ended with no leader having been officially proclaimed, even after lengthy delays. (Doug Ford has reportedly won the nomination based on the weighted points system the Tories use. Christine Elliott has reportedly won the popular vote.)
If the Tories had been trailing in the polls or suffering from a lack of funds, this might not have mattered — but this was supposed to be the beginning of the newest PC leader’s romp to victory on June 7. Now, no matter who the party actually chooses, the Tories are looking at a potential disaster.
At this point, the best-case scenario for Elliott is that she wins a legally contested nomination despite the party’s own rules — and potentially alienates the coalition of insurgents and social conservatives who backed Ford and Tanya Granic Allen.
The best-case scenario for Ford is that Elliott goes away quietly and plays the good soldier for her party (for a third heartbreaking time). But the things Ford has already said and done during this leadership race — reopening the debate over abortion policy, courting the religious far-right — are a matter of public record, and they’re not going away. The Liberals and New Democrats will be able to produce mixtapes of his greatest hits going back to his time as a Toronto city councillor.
The Tories have also given young voters — and young women, especially — reason to reconsider the Liberals and the NDP, having spurned an experienced and qualified woman for a man whose only qualification for public office is one miserable term in municipal government. Those voters were likely to swing heavily Liberal and NDP anyway, but the Tories may just have goosed their turnout.
Clearly, for a large portion of the PC party, Ford’s history didn’t matter. He ran this campaign railing against elites and insiders, and that message resonated with many (if not most) of the PCs’ membership. But that leaves the Tories with a bigger problem — one they’ll have to think hard about — for the future: What does it say about the party that Doug Ford did all but promise to burn it to the ground, and thousands of Tories said to themselves, “Yeah, I like what he’s selling”?
Before the party can do that soul-searching, though, they have to figure out who their leader is. Maybe someday they’ll tell us.
May we have a moment of your time?
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