, 02.02.2018 10:31 AM

Handicapping the Ontario PC candidates

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?


  1. D. Anthony Domet says:

    A good analysis Warren but don’t underestimate Doug Ford. He will have my first vote because I intend to send a message. My second will go to Christine Elliot unless I find some reason to go with Mulroney. I was with Monte last time and then Brown, but Brown betrayed the base and those who came to him. I should have gone with Elliot, at least then, I would have known what I was getting instead of a one-dimensional, shallow, pretend Conservative who would not respond to letters or complaint. Good riddance.

    So what of Ford? Do you remember when poor Rob had his problems and Jim Flaherty, may they both rest in peace, was in tears? The Ford and Flaherty family (Christine was his wife for those who do not know) were close. I think Doug will eventually realize he can’t win Ontario but he will deliver the massive Ford Nation to Elliot and bow out and then use the publicity to knock out Tory.

    I also think that Brown was done in by Conservatives who knew that the Liberals were going to take him down in May when it would be too late.

    I long for the days of a real fiscal and social Conservative but I accept the fact that a tenth of a loaf is better than no bread.

    • Warren says:

      Excellent point about the Ford-Flaherty connection. I should’ve mentioned that!

    • cynical says:

      Regarding social conservatism: I’m not sure there’s a broad enough appetite for that in Ontario. Fiscal conservatism, yes. (Even as an NDP voter I’m a fiscal conservative). I think the world has moved beyond a discussion of many of the favourite issues of social conservatives. They’ve become “settled issues”.
      At the end of the day I really hope the institutions of democracy in Ontario lead to a good, middle-of-the-road solution. The last thing Ontario needs is a war on its own civil service in the manner of the last PC government.

  2. Matt says:

    Doug doesn’t really have that every man feel, that touch Rob had with people. Plus there’s allegations in his past well covered by the Globe and Mail. But he’s popular as hell in the areas the OPC need to win, namely the suburbs of the 416 and into the 905. I still think had the 2014 Toronto Mayoral Election been 10 to 14 days longer, he would have beat Tory.

    Don’t know a lot about Caroline Mulroney, other than I heard she seems to be respected by all branches of the Conservatives – blue tory’s, red tory’s, so-cons and libertarians. A group representing all of them supposedly pushed her to run for CPC leader. Asking a lot for someone who has never held office to jump right into the leaders spot within weeks of the start of an election

    Christine Elliot would be the hardest for Liberals to attack. After all, Wynne appointed her Ontario’s patient ombudsman. Has lots of experience at QP, but failed twice to win the leadership.

    Rod Phillips, I know nothing about so can’t really comment.

  3. HM57 says:

    Ford would be great as leader of the opposition, and he might do alright as leader of a minority government. At any rate, I just hope whichever one the OPC picks manages to win his own riding : )

    • HM57 says:

      * his/her/their/whatever

      • Miles Lunn says:

        Elliott: Not likely to run in her old riding of Whitby which she would easily win. Instead plans to run somewhere in Toronto, but of the ridings without candidates yet, the vast majority are ridings they don’t stand a chance in. Now perhaps someone in a winneable riding will step aside. I’ve thought Oshawa or Durham which are right next door to her old one would be ideal and both are winneable, the latter being almost a near certainty for a pick-up.

        Ford: A catch 22 here. He is very popular in Etobicoke North and is probably the only PC candidate out there that actually makes that riding winneable as normally this is a very safe Liberal riding, but also the heart of the Ford Nation. On the other hand the fact the PCs never do well here could be a problem. In fact I actually think he would have a better shot in this riding if he ran as an independent.

        Mulroney: York-Simcoe is a very safe PC riding so the party would have to implode pretty badly to lose that one, so she is safe in her own riding.

        Phillips: Ajax is probably the strongest Liberal one in the Durham region and using the polling averages, the OLP would probably narrowly hold this so just him running will raise his profile and improve his chances of picking this up. I know we don’t use target seats like they do in the UK, but Ajax probably ranks around 70 for the PCs, otherwise if they get over 70 seats, they pick it up, below 70 seats and they don’t win it.

        • HM57 says:

          To be honest, Miles, my remark about picking a leader capable of winning their own riding was mostly a cheap shot at Warren’s pal, John Tory. I really haven’t been able to take the OPCs seriously since 2007… Seems voters in Ontario feel pretty much the same as I do.

          Hopefully, Elliott, Ford, Mulroney and Phillips would all be willing to step down as party leader if they didn’t manage to win their own riding. Hopefully!

          Anyhow, it seems the discussion is mainly about who can beat Wynne. Brown and his gang seemed to think they could do it by winning over voters from other parties. In other words, by going after about 10% of the about 70% of the about 50% of eligable voters that voted in the last election.

          If that’s still the OPC’s plan, they need to pick one of the women. Nobody who voted for Wynne, or Horwath, in the last election is ever going to vote for a cisgender, male conservative. You might as well ask one of them to vote for Donald Trump or, by corollary, Adolf Hitler.

          The other option is to go after a percentage of the 50% of Ontario voters that didn’t vote. Could Ford or Phillips get about 500K guys with better things to do to take the time to vote for them? They’d probably need to promise beer and pot in corner stores and getting rid of Drive Clean to do that, but it might work.

  4. Matt says:

    Fedeli’s comment about “rot” will be used for attacks by the Libs and NDP for sure. It will do some damage for sure, but I don’t know how much. After all, don’t most voters already think political parties are full of rot? OPC’s may get bonus points for admitting it and working to clean it up.

    Plus there are multiple reports from independent offices like the Auditor General Office and Financial Accountability Office hammering the Liberals that the OPC will use in their own ads.

  5. Mark says:

    I think Mulroney will wipe the floor with the other candidates. Many voters still have a Trudeau-dynasty mindset in Ontario and much of the country, and Mulroney’s charm, bilingualism, outsider image, not to mention her father’s increasingly-improving image as the father of free trade, etc, will help her. And, as you mentioned, she is a true PC from what I can tell. Elliott had her chance and blew it a couple of times and is old news. Ford is, well, a Ford, and aside from a certain anti-elite group of supporters, will go out on an early ballot. That’s my $0.02.

  6. Wayne says:

    You lost me at Wynne the “centrist”. Thanks for the thigh slapper on a Friday evening.

  7. doconnor says:

    “Rod, like Mulroney, doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature.”

    None of these candidates have seats in the Legislature. With the election so soon it is even less of a big deal then usual.

    There is a good chance all 3 of the major party leaders will be women in the coming election.

  8. Charlie says:

    Doug Ford:
    A profoundly bad idea. Regardless of how much discipline he manages to show in the weeks ahead and how much “valid outsider we shouldn’t underestimate” punditry he received, he is a poison pill for the PC and will force voters to stay home rather than choose between Wynne and him. The PCs would be foolish to look at any polling and think, “he’s our populist”, and elect him leader.

    Caroline Mulroney:
    I remember a 2014 interview with the Mulroney kids where she distinctly said “no” to the suggestion of her future in politics. Now she’s likely to end up the leader of the PCs.

    She’s obviously the right choice. She’s a young woman and so much what the PCs haven’t had and what they lacked under Brown. I could go into a number of bulleted reasons why she is the best option for the PCs, but suffice it to say, Wynne doesn’t want to go up against her on the campaign trail.

    Christine Elliot:
    She’s quickly becoming the female John Tory.

    What’s the case for her candidacy this time? Why is she running? I keep coming back to: because the guy who beat her last time is gone, and that is a terrible case to make.

    Her path to success here comes if she can adopt Ford’s supporters with some authentic charm. The daughter of a wealthy former PM raised with a silver spoon versus a hard working widow is a compelling contrast if she can make it.

    Rod Phillips:
    Let’s be honest, if the PC base is smart, this race will be about which woman out of Christine and Caroline they are going to elect to go up against Wynne. The next alternative will be dumb populism embodied by an oafish Ford. There’s not enough space or time in this race for Rod.

  9. Terence Quinn says:

    No matter who wins I don’t think anyone in that party can regain enough momentum to win the election. But, if they can hold Wynne to a minority the new leader can then get fully organized.

  10. Miles Lunn says:

    My thoughts are as follows:

    Elliott: She is my first choice and if the PCs are smart they will go with her. I think she has a good chance of winning the nomination and unless she does something really stupid would probably win the provincial election.

    Ford: He could pull it off but will need a strong lead on the first ballot as probably won’t get many second choices. Also membership cut off date is February 16th so not a lot of time to sign up new members. He would be Wynne’s dream opponent. For those saying he might help the party break into the 416, I suggest you look in more details at the 2011 federal results in Toronto and has. There are two wards per federal riding under the old boundaries and of the 8 ridings Harper won in 2011, only 2 (York Centre and Scarborough Centre) backed Doug Ford while his three best ridings were Etobicoke North, York West, and York South-Weston, all ridings the PCs tend to get clobbered in so he might get them more votes there but the PC label is too toxic in those ridings to win. On the other hand in ridings like Willowdale, Don Valley West, Eglinton-Lawrence, and Etobicoke-Lakeshore, which are more affluent ridings, he did quite poorly. Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga-Lakeshore, Newmarket-Aurora, and Milton all have similar profiles and should be easy pick ups, but with him the Liberals might hold those. Never mind the wards he did well in are mostly one’s that are over 50% non-white and his endorsement and support of Donald Trump which the Liberals will remind people of could hurt him there. Yes he could win provincially, but it would be a tough slog and more importantly if he got only a minority, the Liberals and NDP would gang up to defeat him on the throne speech and prevent him from forming government whereas I don’t think they would do this for the other ones. Likewise he would like Trump do such a bad job the party would get beaten next time around and be out of power for a decade or more.

    Mulroney: She is moderate, smart, and quite capable. Her main weakness as she has never ran a campaign so we don’t quite know how she would perform. Otherwise she would be favoured to win but there is a greater risk with her, that she does something stupid.

    Phillips: He seems like a decent candidate, his real weakness is not well known which due to the short timeframe that could make winning the nomination tough and more importantly if chosen it becomes a race of who defines who first.

    • Donna Ruth says:

      “She has never run a campaign, so we don’t know how she’d perform.”
      Hmmmm. Think. Think. Think. Perhaps she knows someone who could mentor her through this. We can bet the farm that Pops will bring in the team to micromanage, and then there is retiring, savvy Julia Munro who has held Caroline’s new riding since Moses, and already has been mentoring. Cha-ching!

  11. Tom Joad says:

    Haven’t we had enough of the entitled children of political elites?

    And boy, my experience in various parts of Ontario sure is different than others! The mainstream media seems to believe we hold the Mulroney name in some kind of reverence and that Ontarians have benefited gloriously from the free trade with the Americans that he unloaded on us, followed by NAFTA. I, and hundreds of thousands of other Ontarians who lost good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, would beg to differ!

  12. Phil says:

    “lots of party members”

    Maybe not …

    “The interim leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives is launching an investigation into the legitimacy of the tens of thousands of new party memberships signed up during his predecessor’s 2.5-year reign.”


  13. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    My advice to the PCs: go into this race with an open mind and choose the person who has the capacity to be the most bullet-proof against Wynne and Horwath.

    If the PCs can’t win, does that automatically equate with Wynne pulling it off? Don’t think so.

  14. billg says:

    Rod Phillips would be the smart choice under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances.
    Caroline Mulroney is the only hope the Ontario PC’s have, which means the delegates will pick either Doug Ford or Christine Elliot, hell, I have so much faith in the PC faithful that I can see Patrick Brown finishing 3rd. As a card carrying CPC member I still have no idea what the Ontario Conservatives platform is other then not being Liberal so its hard to really care much, but, I did my best Nostradamus impression on this site 6 months ago and predicted Caroline Mulroney would be a PC Leader within 4 years, which would be the first time I was correct on anything political.

  15. Daryl Gordon says:

    Retired. My work is golf in the morning, touristy things in afternoon, nice dinner in evening. Repeat till springtime.

  16. Mark Dowling says:

    Surely Team Mulroney have this base covered?

    “Does Caroline Mulroney have an Ontario health card yet? Drivers license? Or is she just visiting? #onpoli”

  17. Robert White says:

    Assuming Doug Ford is right, and that the elites are controlling who gets party support, we can conclude that Mulroney is their preferred candidate because she will have to endure all the heckling that her father made sure she would have to endure if she ever decided to run for public office to embarrass Canadians like her father did on the world stage.

    And given that Mulroney has already had her Campaign Strategist interviewed on the CBC, we can conclude that the mainstream media has already been primed for support by the elites backing Mulroney. Everyone else in the PC Party race is Sideshow Bob by comparison because we also know that Vic Fedeli walked back his claim that he was going to run for leader of the party days previous. Fedeli stated that because the elites told him he was not going to be running against Mulroney.

    Ergo, the absolute guaranteed outcome of this upcoming election will be Wynne, Horwath, & Mulroney. Horwath will occupy official opposition, and Wynne will get a majority government because of the unprofessionalism evidenced pre-election on the part of the PC Party leadership & executive. And Mulroney will lead the ((((cough)))) ‘Progressive Conservative’ Party further into the abyss of political fringe fascism until they become hysterical en masse and fall off the political radar down a cliff made for political lemmings like ex-MPP Jack MacLaren & ex-PC Party leader Brown et al.


  18. Steph says:

    I would not count Doug Ford out of the race yet as many grassroots, rural Ontarians are angry at status quo like mentality that brought us OPC platform agreeing to Carbon tax and such. The issue I have with Mulroney besides being a centrist is the robbing blind of tax payers and really was NAFTA really all that good for Canada/Ontario or has everyone forgotten what it did to Canadian manufacturing jobs and such? Caroline Mulroney is also what many rural Ontario voters would call an Out of Touch elite that have turned their backs on regular Ontarians with Identity politics and SJW issues becoming part of Conservative party platforms….Honestly it really should not come down to only a woman can beat Kathleen Wynne how about it being about Who can turn Ontario’s debt crisis around with sound fiscal management? The fact that Doug Ford doesn’t follow status quo and is talking about NO carbon tax makes him more appealing and the fact the elites want Mulroney or Elliot and NOT Ford makes him more appealing to voters tired of having policy, taxes and Identity politics rammed down their throats. Everyone in media, party establishment discounted Trumps run for President and said it would never happen because just as always they did not think about the silent majority sick and tired of more of the same business as usual which is what Mulroney represents and Ford does not. One thing to not discount either is that Ford Nation crosses established party lines and incorporates people from all walks of life….. At least he is ready to bring actual Conservatism back to OPC and not just be Liberal Lite like the rest of leadership candidates imo… The change to the system that is broke.

    • Miles Lunn says:

      The problem with that is Doug Ford appeals to the base who are angry about the party becoming more centrist, but the reason the party has been stuck in opposition for 15 years is that is all they appealed to and the base simply isn’t large enough to win. Rural Ontario is going to go PC no matter what so being popular there won’t help the party. It is about breaking into the suburbs (particularly 905 and also Ottawa ones) and smaller cities like St. Catherines, Barrie, Kitchener-Waterloo, and London that will put the PCs over the top and Doug Ford outside of the Ford Nation areas in Toronto is likely to be quite toxic there. In centre-right ridings like Newmarket-Aurora, Oakville, Burlington, and Milton, both Elliott and Mulroney could easily win there whereas Ford is the type who will hold those for the Liberals.

      Whether the base likes it or not, Trump style politics don’t sell north of the border. Never mind the PCs got 31% in 2014 while Harper got 35% federally in 2015 in Ontario so the party has to broaden their appeal. Scrapping the carbon tax plays to the idea PCs are hostile to taking action on climate change which won’t sell amongst urban voters or those under 40. To win the party has to do better amongst female voters, which both Mulroney and Elliott can whereas Ford will just scare them away. They also have to do better amongst millennials too. They don’t have to win the millennial vote, but they have to get around 30% of millennials to vote for them as opposed to only 20%. Likewise Ford’s support for Donald Trump will hurt him amongst visible minorities who may have voted for the Ford’s as mayor, but this will be an easy attack to say he is a racist. Playing dog whistles like Harper did in 2015 costs one big time amongst the ethnic community. Unlike the US, the Tories cannot rely on winning the white vote by big margins to offset losses amongst non-whites. Much like with millennials they have to get at least 1/3 of the non-white vote to have a chance.

  19. Matt says:

    Fedeli revealed yesterday there are 130,000 Ontario PC members, not the over 200,000 claimed by Brown.

    But he said some other interesting things:

    1) In the couple days since Ford announced he’d be running, there have been 5,000 memberships sold. Now, that could be people signing up to support him or could be to vote against him.

    2) The party has cancelled monthly payments to a nominated candidate

    3) Cancelled payments to two regional organizers.

  20. Pedant says:

    Good column here by Jaime Watt : https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/02/04/post-scandal-pcs-poised-for-a-dramatic-revival.html

    He is a Conservative so clearly biased, however I’ve always found his analysis of current political events (and their impact on the various parties/players) to be strictly impartial.

    He seems to believe Ford will catch fire (not in a self-immolating kind of way lol).

    I’m inclined to agree with the first comment on this thread that Ford will deliver his voters to Elliott. But it could very well be the reverse.

    I have to say, this is shaping to up to be an exciting and highly unpredictable leadership race.

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