TORONTO—Barrie MP Patrick Brown claimed the early lead as the candidates to become leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives reported the number of new memberships they sold before the five p.m. Saturday cut off time.
Brown’s campaign says they sold 40,410 new memberships to the PC party, Ontario’s Official Opposition, while London-area MPP Monte McNaughton’s campaign says they sold just under 20,000.
Deputy PC leader Christine Elliott did not report any sales figures in a statement issued after the membership sales ended, but said she was confident the final numbers released by the party will reflect her widespread support across the province.
The party may not release official results—and a preliminary voters’ list—until April 3.
Every PC member will be eligible to vote for the new leader in May, so candidates tried to sell as many $10 memberships as possible. People as young as 14 were eligible to become PC members.
The Tories had about 100,000 members in the early 2000s, but were down to just 10,000 when they lost their fourth consecutive election last June.
A PC party statement said “neutral” officials are reviewing the memberships reported by each campaign to ensure all required information is in place and that duplications are eliminated.
“The preliminary voters’ list will be shared with the leadership campaigns, returning officers and riding associations by April 3 in order to provide the opportunity to check for accuracy,” said PC party president Richard Chiano. “An appeals process is available to handle any disputes or discrepancies.”
Elliott, considered the centrist candidate, is way out in front in the fundraising department, reporting $620,000 in donations so far, compared with $197,000 for Brown, the only candidate without a seat in the Ontario legislature.
“I am confident the final numbers to be released by the party in coming days will reflect the momentum my campaign has built so far,” Elliott said in her release.
McNaughton, who is a distant third in fundraising with only $77,000 in donations reported to Elections Ontario, has drawn fire for his public stand against Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum, but both Brown and Elliott have criticized the government for not consulting enough parents on the policy.
Former PC Leader Tim Hudak resigned shortly after June’s election loss, the second under his stewardship, when the Liberals were returned with a majority.
PC party members across the province will vote for the new leader on May 3 and 7, using preferential ballots, with the results to be announced at a convention in Toronto on May 9.