Doug Ford was declared the winner, but Christine Elliott is challenging the result.
After a dramatic day where a behind-the-scenes battle over the ballots — one that led to Ford being named the new leader of the Ontario PC Party some seven hours later than scheduled — Elliott refused to concede and then sent out a statement alleging “serious irregularities with respect to this leadership race.”
Elliott says there are less than 150 points separating her and Ford of the possible 12,000 in play, and alleges that “thousands of members have been assigned to incorrect ridings.”
That matters under the complex system for Tories to select a new leader, which involves preferential ballots and a system of points — with the percentage of votes a candidate earns in each riding translating into electoral points.
“Our scrutineers identified entire towns voting in the wrong riding. In a race this close, largely determined by geography, someone needs to stand up for these members,” Elliott’s statement said.
“I will stand up for these members and plan to investigate the extent of this discrepancy.”
It is unclear if she plans a court challenge, and an update from her campaign was expected Sunday. Her campaign continued to meet with lawyers Sunday afternoon.
Elliott’s challenge came after news that Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives had elected Ford as their new leader, less than three months before the provincial election.
On Sunday afternoon, the party issued a statement confirming Ford as leader, saying “these results are definitive and provide a clear mandate” to him.
Former premier Mike Harris also implored Elliott to concede defeat, telling the Star on Sunday that “it’s time for everyone to put our party and our province first.”
“I am calling on Christine to make last night’s result unanimous so that our new leader can get on with the job of defeating Kathleen Wynne,” he said.
Harris, the PC premier from 1995 until 2002, attended Saturday’s Tory leadership convention.
He remains a widely respected figure in the party. Elliott’s late husband, Jim Flaherty, was Harris’s finance minister in 2001-02.
The former premier contacted the Star because he wants Conservatives to get on with the campaign to unseat Wynne’s Liberals in the June 7 election.
On Sunday afternoon, Premier Kathleen Wynne tweeted “Congratulations to the Conservatives on electing their new leader, and to Doug Ford on a successful race. Wishing them well.”
Ford, the one-term Toronto city councillor and 2014 runner-up to Mayor John Tory bested favourite Christine Elliott, a lawyer and former MPP making her third attempt at the party leadership.
“Tonight we took the first step in defeating Kathleen Wynne,” Ford told media and supporters at 10:15 p.m. Saturday, flanked by his family.
He acknowledged “many of the party members feel like they’ve been let down with this process,” and added: “We have a lot to do in a very short amount of time.”
But Ford promised, “I will get our party back on track. We will put a platform forward that will speak to every Ontarian.”
He praised leadership rival Caroline Mulroney and gave a special shout-out to competitor Tanya Granic Allen, whom he called “amazing.” Ford also had praise for Elliott, but said he had not spoken to her.
Ford’s win came after a tumultuous leadership event on Saturday. Hundreds of party members, who paid $50 each to attend, had waited for hours at a Markham convention centre to learn who their new leader was, only to be sent home after the vote was too close to call.
“There is a review (of ballots) underway,” PC leadership committee chair Hartley Lefton said around 7:30 p.m., addressing a crowd that had thinned as the afternoon dragged on.
The controversy “needs to be resolved, as it may have an impact on electoral votes,” he added, drawing shouts and boos as he urged the crowd to leave since the party no longer had access to the hotel ballroom, which was booked for a wedding Sunday.
Furious Ford supporters shouted “bulls-” and “shame” as Lefton spoke, because they felt the party establishment was trying to steal the leadership from their candidate.
Former MPP Frank Klees, the runner-up to Tim Hudak in the 2009 leadership contest, fumed on Saturday that “this is not a good night” for the party.
“I am disheartened. I am embarrassed by what is happening here tonight,” said Klees, a Ford supporter, who lashed out at Elliott’s camp for contesting the results.
“It was Christine Elliott’s camp who refused — of all of the four candidates — to extend the voting by a week,” said the former cabinet minister, referring to an injunction application for an extension that was denied by a judge.
A senior party member said of the continued chaos, as well as the spectre of a Ford win: “I hope Kathleen Wynne is getting hammered tonight — she should be celebrating.”
Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews, who was at the leadership event all day, said “keeping people in the dark for that long was just unconscionable. They should have come out much, much earlier and said what was going on. That just was very disrespectful.”
Speakers earlier in the afternoon had urged party unity given all the tumult since Patrick Brown stepped down as leader just six weeks ago, after being accused of sexual improprieties involving young women.
Elliott had been perceived as the front-runner over Ford, the 53-year-old married father of four daughters who has spent most of his career running the family business Deco Labels. He left the firm in 2010 to run for his younger brother’s old seat in Etobicoke North, and served one term on city council.
During his PC leadership campaign — he was the first to announce his candidacy and did so from the basement of his mother’s Etobicoke home — Ford wooed social conservatives by promising to review the province’s sex education curriculum, and wondered why teenage girls don’t require permission notes from their parents if they want to get an abortion.
At his campaign launch, Ford said he opposed Ontario’s carbon tax, pledged to keep taxes low and said it was time for the PC party to “present Ontarians with a compassionate and responsible vision.”
For Elliott, 62, Saturday’s result was yet another disappointment in her bid to lead the party. The lawyer, former Ontario patient ombudsman and widowed mother of three lost in 2015 to Brown, and in 2009 to Hudak.