In a demonstration of organizational incompetence seldom seen in Canadian politics, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives found a way on Saturday to deny their leadership to candidate Christine Elliott, who both won the popular vote and carried a majority of the province’s 124 ridings.
Instead, Doug Ford, older brother of Toronto’s late mayor Rob Ford, was declared the winner under the party’s absurdly complicated and error-riven system of “electoral points,” which was heavily loaded in favour of ridings where the party has few members.
Each PC riding association, large or small, was allotted 100 electoral points. In a riding, with, say, 5,000 party members, a candidate who won 4,000 votes (80 per cent of the total) would collect 80 electoral points. In a riding with only100 members, just 80 votes would produce the same 80 electoral points.
Ford piled up enough electoral points in these small ridings to overtake Elliott. His margin of victory after a recount: about 150 of the 12,400 electoral points available.
There were other problems. While 64,053 Tories cast their online ballots, several thousand more were denied the vote because the party failed to get their credentials to them on time. And when the ballots were tabulated on Saturday, the party discovered that at least 1,300 votes had inadvertently been assigned to the wrong riding; the party claimed the errors had a minimal bearing on electoral points.
Elliott undoubtedly felt she had been robbed on her third bid for the PC leadership. She was not present and did not endorse Ford when the results were announced late Saturday, seven hours behind schedule. She issued a statement citing “serious irregularities” that needed to be investigated.
The party’s rules offer no recourse. She could challenge the result in court, but judges, as recently last week, have been reluctant to get involved in internal party disputes.
So, fair or not, the June 7 provincial election will almost certainly pit Doug Ford against the deeply unpopular Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne, and New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath. And, if the opinion polls are to be believed, the PCs will head into the campaign as the favourites.
Desire for change is the most powerful force in electoral politics, as its practitioners know. It’s the force that carried Justin Trudeau to victory over Stephen Harper and Donald Trump to victory over Hillary Clinton.
In Ontario, Ford will be a stronger agent for change than Horwath whose NDP platform may seem to voters to be almost indistinguishable from Wynne’s.
Ford captured the PC leadership without anything that could be described as a platform. He ran as a social conservative, a populist and a sworn enemy of “elites.” He was the most vocal opponent of a carbon tax. He would reduce taxes. He would slash “billions” from provincial spending, without saying where he would cut.
He didn’t need much of a platform for the abbreviated leadership campaign. It sufficed to denounce Kathleen Wynne and her “corrupt” Liberals, loudly.
The general election will be more demanding. Wynne is a much tougher customer than Christine Elliott or Caroline Mulroney. She can be expected to expose the PCs policy vacuum, accuse them of being climate-change deniers, and ridicule Ford’s right-wing bromides. She will contrast her government’s popular policies – minimum wage increase, reduction in hydro rates, youth pharmacare and free post-secondary tuition for low- and middle-income students – with Ford’s bleak prescription of cuts and retrenchment.
Some Liberals view the choice of Ford as manna from above, an unanticipated gift from the shambles of the PC leadership. There may be something truth to that, although the Liberals would be ill-advised to underestimate the desire for change or the loyalty and conviction of the “Ford Nation” base.
In a sense, Donald Trump may be Wynne’s secret weapon. The more tightly she can draw her new opponent into the orbit of the erratic populist in the White House, the more she can pull disenchanted moderate voters back into the Liberal fold.