Christine Elliott jumps into Ontario PC leadership race

By , on February 1, 2018

FILE: Christine Elliott (Photo by Jwiki2014 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)
FILE: Christine Elliott (Photo by Jwiki2014 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

TORONTO — The race to lead Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party kicked off in earnest Thursday, with the entrance of a high-profile candidate who was once considered the odds-on favourite to lead the party.

Former Ontario legislator Christine Elliott announced via social media she is running to lead the provincial Tories, who have been working to get back on track after their top ranks were rocked by sexual misconduct allegations last week.

The 62-year-old former Whitby-Oshawa politician announced her leadership plans with a simple tweet — “I’m in.”

Elliott will be among those vying to replace former party leader Patrick Brown, who resigned last week in the face of sexual misconduct allegations he categorically denies. His resignation came just months before a spring election.

Elliott’s campaign spokeswoman, Melanie Paradis, said the media will hear more from the new candidate in the days to come.

Elliott “is immediately focused on connecting directly with grassroots members to talk about the issues that matter most to our party and the future of Ontario,” Paradis said.

The widow of late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, Elliott has run twice unsuccessfully for the Tory leadership — once in 2009, when she lost to Tim Hudak, and again in 2015, when she came second to Brown.

She was considered the front-runner in the 2015 race and lost to the up-start Brown, who began the race as a relatively unknown back-bench MP in the Harper federal government.

She went on to serve as Ontario’s non-partisan patient ombudsman but resigned from the role Thursday after announcing her bid to lead the PCs.

Elliott’s entry means she joins former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, brother of the city’s late former mayor Rob Ford, as the race’s only declared candidates.

“I’d like to welcome my friend (Christine Elliott) to the race,” Ford said in a statement on Twitter. “I look forward to talking about positive ideas for a stronger Ontario PC Party and how we’re going to beat Kathleen Wynne.”

Other potential candidates include Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, and former Postmedia executive Rod Phillips. Sources tell The Canadian Press Phillips is set to enter the race within days.

PC energy critic Todd Smith said in a statement Thursday afternoon that after contemplating a bid for the leadership he will not run, citing the cost to enter the race and the debt required to finance a campaign.

The provincial Tories are set to pick a new leader March 10.

Party executives laid out the rules that will govern the race to replace Brown late Wednesday night.

Those seeking to take the reins — or help decide who will — must register with the party by Feb. 16, with the vote set to begin a few weeks later.

Under the rules, leadership candidates must submit their paperwork and $100,000 in fees and deposits by the February date, with another $25,000 due later to access the party’s membership list. Each candidate’s campaign spending cannot exceed $750,000, according to the document.

Ontario residents who wish to help select the new Tory leader must become party members by that same date.

Votes will be cast electronically between March 2 and March 8, and the results will be announced March 10, the rules say.

“We have almost 30-35 days, so that is one of the best options in front of us, so it will be mostly electronic voting,” party president Jag Badwal told Wednesday night after a meeting of the party’s executive.

The party’s leadership election organizing committee has said the Tories would stick to a one-member, one-vote rule.

Caucus had recommended that the party’s interim leader, Vic Fedeli, stay on through the June election, drawing objections from those who argued the party membership should have a say. The party executive chose to overrule caucus and hold a leadership race before the spring campaign.

Fedeli announced soon afterwards that he would not be seeking to make his role permanent. Two other legislators considered potential candidates, Monte McNaughton and Lisa MacLeod, have also ruled out a run for the top spot.

The party has been in turmoil since Brown stepped down after vehemently denying sexual misconduct allegations reported by CTV News. The Tories also had to deal with party president Rick Dykstra leaving his post on Sunday amid a separate allegation reported by Maclean’s magazine. None of the allegations have been verified by The Canadian Press, and Dykstra’s lawyers said he “categorically denies” the Maclean’s report.

Asked how the upheaval in the Opposition would affect the upcoming election, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said what happens with the Tories is outside of her control.

“The Tories will either be energized or depleted by their process, that’s up to them,” she said.

Regardless of who is chosen as leader, there will be a “strong contrast” between the two parties’ policies, she said.