Former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford was named the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader after a turbulent party convention, but runner-up Christine Elliott says she won’t concede and that there were “serious irregularities” in the race.
Ford narrowly eked out a win on the third ballot of preferential voting. His victory was revealed by party president Jag Badwal after a chaotic day that included members being sent home from the Markham, Ont., convention hall as officials worked to resolve an issue regarding some key ballots — a process that took more than seven hours.
Elliott, the former MPP and three-time leadership candidate who finished second in the voting, was not in the room for Ford’s victory address to media.
In a statement, Elliott said she will not concede, citing “serious irregularities” in the leadership race.
— Mike Crawley (@CBCQueensPark) March 11, 2018
CBC News reported earlier Saturday that Ford had indeed won the snap, six-week leadership race, but party officials decided not to announce any results until outstanding questions over some disputed ballots could be answered. Sources said there was confusion over which riding a number of ballots came from.
“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,” said Hartley Lefton, chief of the PC’s leadership organizing committee. His words were drowned out by jeers and boos from the crowd.
However, Lefton said later Saturday that the party’s chief electoral officer determined that the issue was not statistically significant enough to change the outcome of the race.
In her statement, Elliott said thousands of PC members were assigned to incorrect ridings and that she won the popular vote.
“I will stand up for these members and plan to investigate the extent of this discrepancy,” she said.
Party officials said that voter turnout was higher than in any other leadership contest in its history, with 64,053 preferential ballots cast over the week-long voting period, though 71,450 total members were registered. The previous record was 44,188 ballots cast in 2002.
‘I will get our party back on track’
Staunch social conservative Tanya Granic Allen was eliminated on the first ballot, while Toronto lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney finished third.
In a brief statement to reporters, Ford thanked his supporters and his family, including his brother and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford — Doug’s closest confidant until his death in 2016.
“I will get our party back on track,” Ford said.
“To the people of Ontario, I say, ‘Relief is on its way.’ And to Kathleen Wynne I say, ‘Your days as premier are numbered.'”
Ford added that he has not spoken to Elliott.
THANK YOU ONTARIO! Thank you for your trust, thank you to the PC members, thank you to the volunteers and thank you to all the other candidates. Together we will put Ontario back on track. #Pcpoldr #pcpo #ford pic.twitter.com/KEb8JvRQXt
— Doug Ford (@fordnation) March 11, 2018
Ford campaigned with a distinctly populist bent and promised to scrap the carbon tax, which he called a “cash grab.”
A former one-term Toronto city councillor, he ran to be the city’s mayor in October 2014, finishing second behind John Tory, and launched another mayoral bid last September before joining the leadership race.
In a statement on Saturday, Tory congratulated Ford on his win and said he “will be reaching out to Mr. Ford to arrange a meeting to discuss Toronto’s needs.”
Turbulent leadership race
Ford’s win comes after a tumultuous six weeks for the Ontario PCs.
The 44-day leadership race was triggered by the January resignation of former leader Patrick Brown following allegations of sexual misconduct made by two women. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing and served CTV News, which first published the allegations, with a notice of libel.
Similarly, in the weeks that followed, problems with the voter registration process drew significant backlash from Ford, Mulroney and Granic Allen. Ford said the leadership vote process was “not transparent” and alleged that only select members were receiving their registration code in time to cast a ballot. Others complained that the online registration was overly complicated.
The leadership organizing committee prolonged the registration deadline three times, but such actions were not enough to fend off allegations of vote suppression and corruption within the party ranks.
Ford, Mulroney and Granic Allen all called for the party to extend the voting period, while Elliott declined to do so.
The matter, however, was settled on Friday afternoon by an Ontario Superior Court judge, who dismissed an injunction application from a disenfranchised party member to prolong the vote.
Brown’s sudden departure also led to a power struggle in the PC’s top ranks and illuminated deep divisions within caucus. It raised serious questions about the validity of the PC membership list which, according to Brown, ballooned under his tenure from some 12,000 to more than 200,000.
However, in a memo to staff last month, interim leader Vic Fedeli said that Brown had inflated the numbers by about 70,000.
In an address to members on Saturday, Fedeli said that in the last several weeks, the party has grown to its strongest point in years.
“Every single activist measure for our party is stronger today than it was six weeks ago,” he said to raucous applause.
“Please, do not let the small differences that are inevitable in a leadership distract us from our shared purpose,” said the Nipissing MPP.
“The real campaign, the real test, still lies ahead of us.”
Fedeli went on to warn that “disunity” within the party would be a gift to Liberals heading into the June 7 election, and he encouraged each candidate to get behind the new leader despite their differences.
“Stay together. Stay strong,” he said.