TORONTO – Ontario’s embattled Opposition will reveal today who will lead the party through a spring election after weeks of unprecedented chaos that exposed deep rifts and tensions within its ranks.
The winner was to be announced at a convention centre in Markham, Ont., shortly after 3 p.m. but an undisclosed issue was causing a delay.
Four candidates – former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, Toronto lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney and parental rights advocate Tanya Granic Allen – are competing to lead the Progressive Conservatives.
Elliott has painted herself as the only one with the political experience to get the party election-ready in time, while Ford has said his business sense equips him to cut government waste.
Meanwhile, Mulroney – the only leadership hopeful already declared a candidate in a riding – has presented herself as a fresh face, and Granic Allen has emphasized her ties to the party’s grassroots.
While all four have pledged to scrap a proposed carbon tax that formed a key pillar of the party’s election platform introduced in November under former leader Patrick Brown, the race has focused less on detailed policy promises and more on the party’s culture.
The Tories were plunged into turmoil when Brown stepped down in late January amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has consistently denied.
His abrupt departure uncovered issues with the party’s structure, problems with its nomination processes, and discrepancies in its membership numbers, leading the Tories’ interim leader to declare he would “root out the rot” before handing over the reins to a new leader.
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The party has since reopened two nominations in contested ridings and abandoned a legal battle with a former party member who clashed with Brown over the nominations and other issues.
The Tories have also upgraded their IT system in response to a cyberattack last fall and cut undisclosed contracts in their effort to move past the wave of controversies that has drawn national attention in recent weeks.
But the leadership race itself has stirred strife and forced party brass to defend their decisions on a number of fronts.
Tensions grew when Brown, fresh off a campaign to clear his name, announced he would throw his hat in the ring in an attempt to reclaim his job.
Some of Brown’s rivals initially denounced his candidacy, calling it a distraction, but then stepped back to focus on their own campaigns. Mulroney, however, called for him to back out of the race, which he eventually did, citing the strain on his friends and relatives.
All four candidates have also raised the alarm over possible membership fraud and delays in member registration. The party said it was aware of those concerns and twice pushed back the deadline for party members to register for the vote.
Ford, Mulroney and Granic Allen pushed for the party to extend the race by a week to allow votes from those who received key documents late, but the leadership election organizing committee said doing so would contravene the party’s constitution.
A lawyer representing one disenfranchised party member sought a court order Friday to have the voting period for the race extended for a week. A judge ruled Friday evening to reject the application.
As of 8 a.m. Friday, 71,402 party members had been verified and the party confirmed that 64,053 members had voted when balloting closed at noon Friday.