Following the shocking allegations about Messrs. Brown and Dykstra, it was reasonable to conclude that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives were basically toast. The election was less than 100 days away: how could they possibly recover in time? How could they possibly win?
Their most-optimistic PC partisans, looking for a silver lining, insisted they had an impressive election war chest. A costed platform, too, and lots of party members. All true.
But a party leader and party president accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault? That’s kind of hard to put out of one’s mind.
In the coming PC leadership race, the party is going to try hard to get you to forget, Ontario. They’ll be assisted by lots of media coverage, and a roster of well-known candidates.
How will those candidates fare? Here’s a roundup.
- Doug Ford: So far, Doug – who I know and kind of get a kick out of – has surprised me. I am told that he is being disciplined, and is working the phones, and is selling (lots) of memberships. His strategy is obviously to depict himself as the anti-elites/outsider/populist guy – and, in the Trump era, there is still a bigger conservative market for that than you might expect. His weakness is his strength: he’s a quote machine, and he knows how to get lots of media coverage – but, oftentimes, it’s media coverage that hurts his cause. That all said, he’s Ms. Wynne and Ms. Horwath’s favourite PC candidate.
- Caroline Mulroney: I haven’t heard her speak, I haven’t come across any of her ideas, I haven’t learned, yet, what makes her tick. But, for worried Ontario PC delegates, simply being (a) female (b) respectable (c) from a legendary political family may be more than enough to win. PCs want a leader who definitively turns the page on the Patrick Brown scandal – and who is hard for the aforementioned Wynne and Horwath to attack. Mulroney does both. The question remans, however: can she perform well in hand-to-hand combat with Doug Ford, who always plays tackle football? We shall see. Mulroney, I think, is the female candidate that would worry Wynne (because they’re both centrists) – and is the fave candidate Horwath would prefer (because lots of progressive Ontario voters dislike dynastic politics).
- Christine Elliott: I was surprised when Ms. Elliott came back. She was beaten soundly by Tim Hudak in 2009 – and she was crushed by Patrick Brown in 2015. Elliott had one of the best provincial patronage appointments around – and she had definitively left political life behind. Can someone who wasn’t even a card-carrying Progressive Conservative now sell enough memberships to win? She didn’t do so in 2009 and 2015 – she was what Donald Trump would term “low energy,” some PC insiders say – and that’s why she lost. As favoured as she is by the party’s old guard, it isn’t hard to see Elliott losing to Mulroney in the charisma department – and it equally isn’t hard to imagine Kathleen Wynne, the uphill jogger, looking way more energetic and passionate.
- Rod Phillips: Full disclosure: Rod and I have been friends for many years, going back to John Tory’s first mayoral run. Rod is a progressive, brilliant, decent guy, and a self-made millionaire to boot. He, like Elliott, would be a challenging target for Ontario Liberals – they put him in charge of the provincial lottery, and he did a great job. His challenge is that the PC party is probably looking for a woman to lead them – and one who can hit the ground running. Rod, like Mulroney, doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature. I don’t know if he will run in the end – but if he does, the Ontario PCs will benefit from it.
What do you think, O Smart Readers? Comments are open?