SHADES OF BROWN – Former PC Leader Patrick Brown still hasn’t been seen or heard publicly since the calamitous end of his reign as party boss, but he has finally been heard from, courtesy of Twitter. It was a carefully worded message, thanking supporters for their well wishes since he resigned under a sexual misconduct cloud, while simultaneously praising and decrying the MeToo movement underlying his downfall. The tweet also inferred that he plans to defend himself against the “false allegations” – which could have major implications on the race to succeed him as party leader. From a political perspective, one of the most jarring aspects of Brown’s ouster was how quickly and coldly he was cashiered by his erstwhile supporters. Three weeks ago, remember, Ontario Tories were unified behind him, praising his organizational skill, touting a pragmatic platform, crowing about swelling membership and an overflowing war-chest. Now all of it is bathed in doubt. Most Tories are still trying to stay optimistic, hoping the leadership race will help build momentum for June’s provincial election. But the more of a presence Brown has – including if he shows up in the Legislature when it resumes February 20, as he is still the MPP for Simcoe North – the more it reminds everyone of the mirage the Tories believed in before.
THREE-RING CIRCUS – Speaking of the PC leadership race – which is pretty much all anybody speaks about around Queen’s Park these days – new developments continue at a frenetic pace. The many angles and twists just beg for bullet-point highlights, so here goes:
After much mulling by potential candidates the race comes down to a trio of hopefuls, all of whom have obvious pros and cons: Christine Elliott (experience as an MPP, well-liked all around, supported by much of the PC caucus; two-time loser in previous leadership contests, no current seat, seen as lacking fire); Caroline Mulroney (fresh face, impeccable credentials, family pedigree; no political experience, untested campaigner, family pedigree); and Doug Ford (“Ford Nation,” anti-elitist cred, fearless; bullying, bombastic, hard-right-wing).
But wait! There could be a fourth candidate, with the emergence of Tanya Granic Allen, President of Parents as First Educators – a group whose raison d’être is opposing the updated sex-ed curriculum – as a possible entrant. If she can come up with the requisite $100,000 and 100 signed-up members, she would immediately become the darling of social conservatives, who might otherwise be expected to back Ford.
Because of the nature of his support, conventional wisdom is that Ford could only win on a first ballot – getting more than half the initial votes – since Elliott and Mulroney supporters are most likely to pick the other woman as their second choice. Given the Ford family’s long-standing relationship with Elliott and her late husband Jim Flaherty, presumably Ford would encourage his supporters to back her as their #2. This could give Elliott a distinct advantage in second-place votes, drawing support from both of her rivals. However, in order to get that chance she has to outpace both of them in the first round, because the last-place finisher gets dropped and their second-place votes are applied to the remaining candidates. If the fourth candidate doesn’t attract enough supporters to make a difference, the third-place finisher will be eliminated too. So, while wooing second-choice votes is obviously important, doing well on the first ballot – i.e., selling memberships – is paramount.
Mulroney is the PC candidate for York-Simcoe, while Elliott and Ford need to find ridings to run in. The Tories have nominated candidates in most ridings, but there are about 30 still up for grabs. Elliott used to be an MPP in Whitby, in a seat now held by incumbent PC Lorne Coe (who won the by-election when she left), but as she has pointed out in interviews she no longer lives there anyway, having moved to downtown Toronto. Ford is expected to choose a seat in his Etobicoke home base. Neither has to make that decision before the leadership is decided, but they will have to undergo the vetting process imposed on all nominees, to ferret out any closeted skeletons.
Such a short race doesn’t leave much time for policy nuance, which is just fine with the party executive, who would prefer to stick with the substance of the People’s Guarantee platform developed under Brown. Indeed, the leadership rules say the candidates must support the “aims, principles and objects of the party and the policy resolutions” adopted last November. However, that’s vague enough to create vast grey areas, and all three main contenders have come out against Brown’s proposed carbon tax – a problematic stance in that the tax was a key factor in paying for other platform commitments. Other divisive issues could include the Liberals’ minimum wage increase – hated by much of the business community but widely embraced across the province – and the aforementioned sex-ed curriculum, a lightning rod for social conservatives.
Mulroney has the early lead in terms of high-profile endorsements, with would-be leadership candidate Rod Phillips backing her when he abandoned his own bid, and MPP Monte McNaughton co-chairing her campaign. McNaughton’s decision was a bit of a slap in the face to the Fords, as the late Rob Ford supported McNaughton’s own leadership bid in 2015 and he is seen as a champion of the SoCons.
Exactly who will be voting remains an open question. As part of the “rot” interim party leader Vic Fedeli vowed to clean up after Brown resigned, he released updated membership figures, showing about 132,000 names – a far cry from the 200,000 Brown had claimed – which includes some 4,000 memberships sold since Brown left. But Fedeli admitted the counting still isn’t done, as his office continues to probe for duplicate and/or bogus memberships.
WYNNE SPIN – Of course the PC ordeal was a hot topic of conversation at last weekend’s Ontario Liberal Party Annual General Meeting, but mostly in an unofficial way. Pronouncements from the podium dealt almost exclusively with cheerleading about Liberal accomplishments and policies to rev up the troops for the campaign ahead. Again we offer some observational bullets:
Organizers touted the event as the largest provincial AGM since 2003, with more than 1,400 delegates. Part of the turnout can be attributed to the Toronto location, but the PC woes no doubt renewed some enthusiasm among Liberal supporters who had been bummed out by relentlessly negative polls.
Premier Kathleen Wynne addressed the Tory leadership race early on by categorically not addressing it, coining a phrase that was repeated ad nauseum: “It’s not who we’re fighting against, it’s who we’re fighting for.”
Wynne did take one shot at Ford – a gesture he no doubt filed for future reprisal. Warning that opponents will escalate their criticism of the Liberals, Wynne intoned, “Some do it in the newspapers. Some do it on Twitter. Some do it from behind a podium in their mother’s basement” – a snide reference to Ford’s campaign launch.
One of the biggest cheers of the weekend came for Deirdre Pike, a long-time NDP activist and Hamilton Spectator freelance columnist, who has switched allegiances and is not only running for the Liberals but will challenge NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in Hamilton Centre. “I have stood beside Andrea in solidarity at many rallies over the years as we were on the same side of so many issues. Now our paths have diverged,” Pike wrote in her final Spectator column. “Her silence on poverty is disheartening.”
Shout-out to Eglinton Lawrence MPP Mike Colle, who showed up on Sunday wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey. Kaepernick was the NFL player who started the whole kneeling-during-the-national-anthem protest, a fitting hero for the plain-spoken Colle. Or maybe it was just because it was Super Bowl Sunday.
On sad note, it was announced on Sunday that former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s mother had passed away. He frequently mentioned her in his speeches when he was Premier, as an inspiration and source of humourous anecdotes.
FOR THE RECORD
“I’ve spent 35 years building my reputation. In one fell swoop, these lies have prompted outrageous headlines and connected me to a story to which I have no business being connected. Well, all that ends today. Today, I begin to reclaim my reputation and fight back against these scurrilous allegations. I mean no harm to Sarah Thomson. But Sarah, you and I both know the incident you described never happened. It’s complete fiction. To be clear, I did not have sex, suggest, request, imply, or joke about having sex with you.”
Steve Paikin, host of TVOntario’s The Agenda, in a social media post under the headline “MY TURN,” vigorously refuting sexual harassment allegations by former Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson. In stark contrast to what happened to former PC Leader Patrick Brown, Paikin’s pleas were largely well-received and TVO has let him keep his job. He will, in fact, host the first of two PC leadership debates on February 15.
“Have we all, as a society, gone mad? Are our elected leaders all invertebrate, vote-hunting panderers to belligerent, man-hating feminists? We are in a bloodless replication of the Prairial phase of the French Revolution.”
Media mogul Conrad Black, in a National Post column, decrying Brown’s career being ruined by unproven allegations. Black, for the record, endorsed Caroline Mulroney as Brown’s successor.
“New York state’s Buy American law will undermine the spirit of our partnership and give their workers an unfair edge. I have no choice but to respond by introducing legislation of our own. Our U.S. partners need to know that if they choose protectionism, they will pay a price.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, sabre-rattling over laws restricting Ontario companies from bidding on New York contracts.
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