On March 10, following a whirlwind six-week leadership campaign during which frontrunner Doug Ford courted pro-life and pro-family voters after Tanya Granic Allen entered the race, Ford was crowned the new Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader.
Ford was declared the winner late on the Saturday evening after party officials kicked out more than 1200 PC members who attended the convention at the Markham Suites Convention Center. If all had gone according to plan, the results of the vote of more than 70,000 members was scheduled to be announced around 3:30, but an exceedingly close count and some question of whether the party list properly identified which voters belonged in which ridings led Christine Elliott to challenge the results and demand a partial recount.
The problem was that the PCs booked the room only until 7 pm, so when the results were contested, the throng of supporters were dismissed.
Some three hours later, the party announced that Ford had won with 50.6 per cent of the points (electoral votes). Under the PC leadership system, every riding is given 100 points and a candidate earns the percentage of points in a given riding based on his or her local support. The process is repeated in all 124 provincial ridings. If a riding has less than 100 voting members, the points are capped at the number of voters.
Granic Allen finished fourth, just behind early frontrunner Caroline Mulroney. Granic Allen, the former head of Parents as First Educators, an anti-sex ed group, won 14.6 per cent of the points, compared to Mulroney’s 17.3 per cent, while Ford trailed Elliott 31.8 per cent to 36.3 per cent. However, about eight in ten Granic Allen voters put Ford’s name second on the preferential ballot, so when her name was removed from the ballot and votes were re-allocated, Ford pulled comfortably ahead but just short of a majority: 43.8 per cent to Elliott’s 38 per cent, with Mulroney trailing with 17.2 per cent. Mathematically it was possible for Elliott to win, but there is always some percentage of people who do not put a second preference, nor can it be reasonably assumed that all of one candidate’s supporters flock to a single opponent. With only about seven in ten of Mulroney’s supporters backing Elliott, Ford won the leadership.
Elliott did not give up easily. Her lawyers argued that some members were erroneously registered in the wrong riding. But, the time to challenge the list had passed and the Leadership Election Organizing Committee determined that not enough votes would be reallocated to change the result. Elliott’s supporters noted that she won the popular vote 51.7 to 48.3 per cent on the final ballot and that she won 64 ridings compared to Ford’s 60. However, as Ford’s campaign manager Michael Diamond told the CBC’s Catherine Cullen, Doug Ford won the only metric that mattered.
It’s worth exploring how he won the leadership despite narrowly losing the vote total and total ridings, albeit narrowly. The PC Party has a system and Elliott did not organize a campaign to take advantage of the esoteric rules that govern Tory leadership contests in Ontario.
Ford won because he won by large margins in numerous Toronto and Greater Toronto Area ridings, and earned the support of Tanya Granic Allen’s socially conservative voters.
According to the predominant media narratives, Granic Allen was the single-issue candidate opposed to sex-ed, Ford was the most right-wing of the four contenders, and they faced two moderates, Elliott, the steady set of veteran hands, and Mulroney, a fresh new face and daughter of a former prime minister. To say that the party establishment wanted Elliott or Mulroney to win only required a glance of everyone’s endorsements. Elliott had the endorsement of 24 MPs and MPPs, while Mulroney had 16 of them. Ford had two MPPs and Granic Allen was supported by MP Brad Trost. That’s to say nothing of the candidates, former MPs and MPPs, and prominent strategists.
Granic Allen was not a single-issue candidate. She ran under the banner: “Conservative. For a change.” She ran the most consistently conservative campaign by highlighting social issues, challenging wind farms, being a fiscal conservative, and demanding the party clean up the nominations mess left behind by Patrick Brown. Ford was to the right of Elliott and Mulroney on some issues, but his focus was eliminating waste in the provincial budget.
Ford repeatedly said he did not enter the race as a social conservative, but he raised the issue numerous times. He initially said he would review Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum, but later vowed to repeal the curriculum immediately and take the time to review the curriculum while promising to consult parents. During a press conference on sex-ed, Ford said: “(The) sex-ed curriculum should be about facts, not teaching Liberal ideology.” He was later asked about parental notification when minor children seek abortions. He said that young teens need parental permission to go on school field trips and other surgery, and the same principle should apply to 12- and 13-year-olds seeking an abortion. “I don’t know too many parents that would approve any of their kids going on a field trip without their knowledge. I don’t see anyone ever approving an operation on their children when they’re 12- and 13-years-old without approval.” He added, “I don’t know why politicians are afraid to talk about this.” The following day as journalists tried to score points against him, Ford did not back down, saying in a statement that he believed “in the sanctity of human life” but would not re-open the issue. However, he added, “I will allow MPPs to draft, bring forward, and debate any legislation that is important to them.”
In an interview with Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), Ford also supported conscience rights to health care workers and expressed concern about the bubble zone that prohibits the free speech rights on pro-lifers near abortion facilities.
More than 9,000 CLC supporters became PC members and in their Voters’ Guide, CLC endorsed Granic Allen first and Ford second. CLC disqualified Elliott and Mulroney because they are pro-abortion and vowed not to reopen the issue at all; Elliott said she would review the sex-ed curriculum while Mulroney said she would not. This stood in stark contrast to Granic Allen and Ford who said they would repeal it.
Ford, most pundits agree, won at least in part because he won over socially conservative voters brought into the party by Granic Allen and his appeal to more socially conservative ethnic voters in the GTA. Indeed, Globe and Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski wrote about the “emergence of social conservatism as a political force in Canada,” due to the fact “immigrants (have) swelled the ranks of Canada’s social conservatives.” He argued that Ford’s victory “would not have been possible without the mobilization of social conservatives.” And they were mobilized. Groups such as the Catholic Civil Rights League, CLC, PAFE, and REAL Women, among others, encouraged their supporters to take out a membership and vote. CLC vice president Jeff Gunnarson told The Interim that while some pro-life and pro-family Ontarians would no doubt have become members and supported Ford, it is hard to imagine that the numbers would have been anywhere near the total that joined had they not be enthused by Granic Allen’s leadership bid. “Considering how close the final tally was,” Gunnarson said, “we are confidant in saying that without pro-life and pro-family voters, Christine Elliott would now be the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.”
It is axiomatic in politics that leadership contenders run to the right to win a nomination and move to the center for the general election. Ford did not back away from his campaign promise. On the night he was declared the winner, Granic Allen was the only leadership opponent to stand with him at the victory announcement, and Ford congratulated her on the campaign she ran. Two days later, he reiterated “we will repeal” the sex-ed curriculum and “we’ll make sure we consult with parents and teachers.”
Granic Allen told The Interim she was happy to give a voice to pro-life and pro-family conservatives sidelined during the Patrick Brown regime. She admitted that the campaign was tiring but exhilarating. She must have caught the political bug because on March 23, Granic Allen announced she was running for the PC nomination in Mississauga-Center.