OPINION: PC race not just a reality show

February 9, 2018

This column originally appeared in The Province on February 9, 2018

If you took everything that’s happened so far this year in Ontario politics and spread it out over all of 2018 we would still be talking about how crazy it’s been.

With this in mind, we find ourselves thrust into a lightning fast race to crown a new Progressive Conservative leader just weeks before an election campaign.

News coverage of a political race naturally takes on a Hollywood reality show feel where contestants are unceremoniously voted off an island each week. But the reality is more complicated than just outlasting your fellow contestants. Barring anything else crazy happening over the next few weeks, and that’s a risky bet at this point, the winner will have to get these five things right.

First, this race will come down to one big question: Can you beat Kathleen Wynne? There are times when races are about the soul of a party or major policy issues, but not this time. For perspective, the last time the PC Party won an election campaign Bill Clinton was president.

The party is still polling competitively, and members are desperate for victory after fifteen long Liberal years. They can taste it. Prove you’ve got what it takes and the job will be yours.

Second, sell memberships quickly. With less than a week left to sell new memberships it’s critical to make sure you’re adding new supporters to the party rolls. This requires incredible speed in signing up organizers and volunteers across the province, as the system treats all 124 ridings equally. Running up the score in a few ridings won’t get it done.

Third, organize and mobilize. By all accounts the Party’s membership and tracking database is a total mess. Modern campaigns live or die on first-rate voter contact systems. It’s not enough to have most members wanting you to win, you need to track and make sure they actually vote.

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown speaks to party members at their policy conference at the Toronto Congress Centre on Saturday November 25, 2017. Michael Peake/Toronto Sun

Fourth, address your concerns with the People’s Guarantee in a realistic way. Patrick Brown’s platform was widely praised when it was announced, but it includes a carbon tax that many members can’t stand. If you want to scrap the tax, you’ll need to either scale back promises or cut government spending to make up for the shortfall.

Poorly received platforms have sunk Tory campaigns of yesteryear. Members will recognize you only have a few weeks after the leadership to get a top-notch platform ready to go. In a normal leadership campaign you can promise the moon and worry about results later, there’s no time for that this go round.

Fifth and finally, be yourself. Authenticity is tops. Voters want the real you not some prepackaged caricature of a politician. And after everything the Party’s been through, there will be bonus points for women candidates. In the #metoo era even stodgy conservative members will no doubt consider a women leader as shortcut to help purge the nasty taste of the Brown fiasco.

But beyond that, for many it may just feel like it’s time for female leadership to help shed the Bay Street, old boys club image that has dogged them in the past. It’s an issue both male and female contenders will have to address.

While the race has just started, it’s almost over too. Even though you won’t get voted off any island if you lose, it’s still going to be a crazy ride. Act quickly while getting the basics right and you’ll have your chance to face the toughest opponent of them all: Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email