“Words fail me,” a long-time Ontario Tory insider.
This veteran of many campaigns is not alone. Many of his fellows – organizers, workers, candidates and rank-and-file members – are aghast at what is going on in the party they have supported through good times and not-so-good times.
Remember, the Progressive Conservatives were the political dynasty that ruled Ontario for 42 unbroken years (1943-1985). It was the party of George Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis, a party with a formula for power: be cautiously conservative, run no risks, do not venture ahead of the electorate, but never lose touch with the mainstream and, when it moves, move with it. That was the Tory way.
(The best example I can think of was in 1971 when Davis, newly elected as leader, repositioned the party with one defining move – stopping construction of the controversial Spadina expressway in Toronto.)
The Tories in those years were simply better than the other parties. They were better organized, attracted superior candidates, and always managed to come up with a leader who made most Ontarians feel that the province was capable hands.
This comfort factor evaporated in the years following the Davis era as the party lurched to the right. Today, chaos, not comfort, is the PC hallmark.
Who would have thought it possible? Less than a month ago, the party was on top of its world with a secure leader, record membership, bank accounts bursting with cash, and a platform for the June 7 election – a “People’s Guarantee” – that adhered to the old Tory formula: conservative but progressive when expedient.
It was a house of cards. And it collapsed. The leader, accused of sexual misconduct, was forced to resign. The party ordered a leadership vote. Four candidates emerged. To date, none has offered any comfort that she or he is capable of managing the province.
Last Thursday’s “debate” among the four on TVOntario was not a real debate. It was an interrogation as Steve Paikin, the host, questioned them, trying to discover what, if anything, they believed in or would do if they became premier.
He found a few crumbs. The audience learned that all four are opposed to a carbon tax, but none has the foggiest idea how to fill the $4 billion hole that elimination of the tax would leave in their platform. Although none displayed any enthusiasm for the People’s Guarantee, it remains party policy.
The audience also learned that Tanya Granic Allen is a one-issue candidate, running to rid schools of the sex education program implemented by the Liberals. Doug Ford has no grasp of provincial issues; he hates taxes, and he thinks he could run Ontario the way his late brother, Rob, wanted to run Toronto. Christine Elliott is a two-time leadership loser; she came across as the most knowledgeable candidate but also as the one most terrified of making a mistake. Caroline Mulroney is personable but out of her depth.
The audience learned two other things. First, none of the candidates supports increasing the minimum wage, as the Liberals are doing, although Mulroney would go along with the platform’s plan to spread the next increase, to $15 an hour, over four years.
Second, all four candidates wish Patrick Brown would go away, far away.
But that’s not going to happen. Although he was expelled from the Tory caucus the morning after the debate, he appeared in the afternoon at party headquarters to declare that he had cleared his name – to his own satisfaction, at least – and he filed his papers to run to succeed himself. Unless the party establishment can find a pretext to disqualify him, which would create even more chaos, he will be on the ballot when voting starts on March 2.
Could the disgraced ex-leader become the new leader? Given the support he is rounding up and the weak field against him, yes, he might just pull it off.
It’s definitely not the old Tory way.