MARKHAM, Ont. – A crowd poised to welcome the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party went home issuing angry catcalls on Saturday as officials said they’d been forced to review the voting results.
Hartley Lefton, chair of the party’s leadership election organizing committee, offered no details of the snag that delayed the announcement of the new leader by 4.5 hours and offered no timeline other than that the matter would be resolved “in the short term.”
“There’s a review underway of an allocation of a certain list of electors that needs to be resolved because it may have an impact on electoral votes,” Lefton said, triggering boos and jeers from the crowd.
Lefton then dismissed the assembled party members from the hall they’d occupied since late Saturday morning, saying the organization no longer had access to the premises. He said the announcement of the new leader would be made via press release at an unspecified time.
More than 64,000 votes were cast in the hastily organized and problem-plagued leadership race, but Lefton did not indicate whether any of the votes were being scrutinized.
Sources tell Global News that ballots are being recounted by hand for the leadership vote and that there is an issue with 1,300 ballots.
It’s unclear which riding they belong to because voting was done by postal code and some ridings have overlapping codes.
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.
The Tories were plunged into turmoil when Patrick 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 Vic Fedeli to declare he would “root out the rot” before handing over the reins to a new leader.
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 leadership race itself has stirred strife and forced party brass to defend their decisions on a number of fronts.
Chief among these were a number of complaints about the complex rrules for the online vote, including repeated claims that the necessary voting documents sent via regular mail were not reaching party members on time.
The Organizing Committee extended the registration deadline three times and even gave members an extra half-day to cast their ballots, but such actions were not enough to fend off allegations of vote suppression and corruption within the party ranks.
A lawyer even filed an injunction the day before the convention seeking to delay the leadership decision by an additional week in order to give more members a chance to receive their documents and cast a ballot.
Superior Court Justice Todd Archibald dismissed the request to extend the race that had already attracted more than 64,000 votes and cost $1.5 million.
At Saturday’s thwarted convention, Fedeli called upon the party to rise above the recent differences and pull together to defeat the Liberals in a scheduled June election.
“Our work does not end today because whatever differences (we have) as Progressive Conservatives, our differences are small compared to everything that unites us,” Fedeli told the crowd before the announcement was due to be made. “The real campaign, the real test, still lies ahead of us.”
The provincial election is set for June 7.
–With files from Jessica Patton and Alan Carter