The Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party was well positioned to challenge Premier Wynne in June’s provincial election until two weeks ago when the PC leader, Patrick Brown, was forced to resign after allegations of serious misconduct became public.
Ontario provincial politics are now in flux with the Official Opposition beginning a leadership race, the Ontario Liberals recovering ground and the third party NDP seeing a prospective opening. For stakeholders of government decision making, monitoring and adjusting government relations strategies over the next five months will be crucial to managing the risk of an uncertain political environment and preparing for opportunities that may arise.
This report outlines the dynamics of the PC leadership race and provides guidance on how stakeholders could respond.
1. The Candidates:
The PC leadership race is shaping up as a contest among:
Doug Ford: Former Toronto City Councillor and brother of controversial Toronto Mayor Rob Ford,
Doug Ford was the first candidate to launch his campaign. His opening message focused on
challenging “elites”, echoing recent populist political movements in the United States and the UK.
Mr. Ford is already positioning himself as the populist, conservative candidate and will try to secure
support by distinguishing himself as the right-wing alternative to his more moderate opponents.
The bulk of Ford’s organizational weight will come from the GTA and as detailed below, the voting
system that governs this race will require geographic support across the province. That said, Ford
has already attracted support from the same social conservative groups that made a difference in
the leadership victory of Patrick Brown. Ford brings a message that clearly differentiates him from
the other candidates. He also has the ability to garner significant media attention, which could
prove valuable in such a short race. Whether Ford can generate appeal among members beyond
his base of supporters will be an important factor in the success of his leadership bid.
Christine Elliot: Former MPP for Whitby and former Deputy Leader of the PCs, Christine Elliott has
run unsuccessfully for the PC leadership twice before. At this stage it remains unclear what
direction Ms. Elliot will take on policy issues as she was not part of the previous platform
development process under Patrick Brown. As a former leading member of the provincial PC
caucus, she may have an edge on her rivals in securing federal and provincial Conservative caucus
supporters. However, given the short leadership race, there will be less time to turn endorsements
from MPs and MPPs into on-the-ground fundraising or support. Christine Elliot will run on
experience and readiness to lead.
Caroline Mulroney: Corporate lawyer, Bay Street investment advisor and daughter of former
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Caroline Mulroney has already secured the PC nomination for York-
Simcoe, a safe PC seat. As a candidate that was nominated when Patrick Brown was leader, Ms.
Mulroney is likely to embrace the Brown platform, especially its more progressive elements. She
has already secured some notable endorsements and attracted prominent campaign co-chairs –
federal MP Lisa Raitt and MPP Monte McNaughton. She has also recruited senior strategists from
Patrick Brown’s campaign team who are familiar with the party’s platform and its organizational
machinery. However, without political experience, it is unclear how well she will perform given the
intense pressure and public scrutiny that this contest will engender. Nevertheless, her name
recognition is high and she will be promoted as a fresh face, untainted by the scandal that has
destabilized the PC house in Ontario.
2. The Leadership Race:
February 16: Deadline to announce candidacy and payment of $125k deposit
February 18: Cut off date for purchase of new party memberships with voting rights
March 2-7: Online voting with a ranked ballot
March 10: Announcement of leadership results
June 7: Ontario general election
The leadership race is governed by the PC Party’s governing documents. The rules are noteworthy
and will impact how the race unfolds.
Membership: Only PC Party members can vote in the leadership. Patrick Brown originally claimed
PC membership was numbered at 200,000 but interim Leader, Vic Fedeli, has since audited the
membership list and found there are only 130,000 members.
Points per riding and ranked ballot: The results will be calculated based on a points per riding
and ranked ballot voting model. Each riding, regardless of its geographic size or the number of PC
members it contains, is worth 100 points. Candidates receive points equal to the proportion of the
vote they receive in each riding. Additionally, the vote is a ranked ballot where the voting will be
counted over rounds with the lowest scoring candidate dropped each round until one candidate has
51% of the points.
Nomination: The new Leader must already be nominated as the PC candidate in a riding or they
must declare by March 8th which riding they intend to contest for a nomination.
Spending: The cap on expenses is $750 000 per campaign.
Platform: The rules require leadership candidates to support the PC Party’s policy resolutions, but
we can be sure that policy disagreements will emerge during the course of the campaign as
candidates maneuver to establish their respective narratives. While the rules appear to bind all
candidates to the party’s already released platform, a newly elected Leader will have room to
“update” the platform after the leadership race is completed.
III) Analysis of the Leadership Race:
The points per riding/ranked ballot voting model and the compressed time frame make it difficult to
predict who will win the leadership race. The voting system, in combination with a short period to
sign up new members, will probably tilt the race in favour of the candidate who can generate the
broadest appeal from across the party’s membership.
To win, a candidate will need to have geographically diverse member support to accumulate points
across many ridings rather than in a concentrated few. Candidates will also vie to be the preferred
second choice of voters because a ranked ballot forces candidates to build consensus, rather than
polarize. Doug Ford is not typically regarded as a consensus builder so look to supporters of
Christine Elliot and Caroline Mulroney to trade second ballot support. With limited time to add new
members, the political leanings of the existing membership will be integral to determining the
outcome of the race. Overall, organization and a sophisticated get-out-the-vote strategy will count
for more than media appeal. Each campaign has a short period to calculate a path to victory based
on where they can accumulate enough points, and then will work to identify and communicate
directly with the members who support them in those ridings.
Early indications gleaned from publicly released polling data suggest that, notwithstanding the PC’s
current disarray, the public appetite for change is still palpable. Hence, the ability to defeat
Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals will be a dominant theme of the campaign, if not in public then certainly
in the arm twisting of eligible voters.
3. How the PC Leadership Race Impacts Stakeholders:
Before Patrick Brown’s resignation, the political landscape in Ontario appeared relatively clear, with
an unpopular Premier slowly regaining support but still faced with a large constituency of voters
that wanted change. Major policy changes by the Liberals were already announced and the PCs had
released their entire platform. For stakeholders, there was relative certainty around the policy
direction that both the Liberals and PCs were taking.
The PC Party platform was written to appeal to the center of the electorate but the leadership race
will challenge some of the policy positions that Patrick Brown took, such as his support for a
phased in minimum wage increase. Already, there are cleavages among the candidates on
supporting a carbon tax and other policy differences are almost certain to emerge. Leadership
candidates can be expected to define themselves by wedging their opponents on issues to enhance
their prospects of winning, even if it means abandoning a promise that Patrick Brown made in the
PC platform. Thus, there is uncertainty around what type of party will emerge from this leadership
race – will it be a populist right-wing party, similar to the federal Conservatives, or a more
moderate, “progressive” conservative party.
Given the short time frame for the leadership race, candidates and their campaign staffs will be
reluctant to meet with stakeholders to be briefed on policy issues during the campaign, and with a
June 7 election date, there will be little time to influence policy after the interregnum. As a
consequence, it will be important to engage the new Leader and senior political staff on key issues
immediately after the race ends.
In the interim, stakeholders can advance their messages to the incoming PC leadership through
I) Building Caucus Support: While the leadership race plays out, stakeholders should build
support for their issues within the PC caucus, particularly among senior caucus members that could
be in cabinet if the PC’s form government in June. Because none of the three main candidates are
currently MPP’s, the new Leader will have to immediately turn to caucus members for briefings on
their concerns/priorities. Stakeholders should be positioned to have one or more caucus members
prepared to raise a stakeholder’s priorities with the new Leader immediately after the race finishes.
II) Thought Leadership: Stakeholders can also explore a strategy to position themselves as
“thought leaders” on their industry. Opposition parties usually rely on stakeholder input for policy
development because they do not have access to the public service’s expertise. But with the short
window between the end of the PC leadership race and the beginning of the provincial campaign,
stakeholders should be positioned to provide comprehensive analysis on their issues, particularly if
the objective is to change the PC platform. One medium for thought leadership is to align with
independent third parties, such as think-tanks, to validate a stakeholder’s policy position.
III) Communication Campaigns: A strategic communications campaign can serve to add public
profile to a stakeholder’s policy concerns. Communicating a set of key messages in the public
forum, through earned media, digital and social media, advertising or grassroots advocacy, puts a
policy issue on the public radar and can prompt political officials to respond accordingly.
Stakeholders can also leverage the higher media attention of the leadership race to insert their
issues into the public forum.
Mark Resnick, Managing Director
Richard Mahoney, Managing Director
Tim Murphy, Managing Director
Graeme McLaughlin, Principal