The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s chaotic six-week leadership race ended in more uncertainty Saturday, with a party official telling a sold-out crowd of frustrated members that it’s not ready to reveal the results.
Hartley Lefton, chair of the PC leadership election committee, told the packed convention centre in Markham, Ont., that there are ballots being disputed, and that the party will reveal results “as soon as practically possible.
“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,” Lefton said.
“Unfortunately we don’t have access to the hall any longer. Members, I ask you to please go home to wait for results. We cannot stay here.”
Loud booing from Doug Ford’s supporters filled the hall as Lefton spoke.
There are approximately 1,300 ballots in question, according to sources.
Multiple sources told CBC’s Mike Crawley earlier Saturday afternoon that Ford had won the contest, but staffers from Christine Elliott’s camp denied that a final result had been reached.
Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen were also on the ballot.
The announcement of the results was indefinitely delayed because there’s confusion over which riding a number of ballots came from. Sources had said earlier it was due to a technical problem with one of the ballot counting machines, but that was not the case.
Elliott’s campaign earlier demanded a manual recount of at least some of the ballots, sources told CBC News. That process was completed, and Ford was still the winner, multiple sources said.
Polling heading into Saturday’s PC leadership convention suggested that it was a toss-up between the two.
Party officials say that voter turnout was higher than in any other leadership contest in its history, with 64,053 preferential ballots cast over the weeklong voting period, though 71,450 total members were registered. The previous record was 44,188 ballots cast in 2002.
Ford campaigned as an outsider with a distinct populist bent, telling reporters that he decided to run for “the people.”
For her part, Elliott was widely considered the top choice of moderate conservatives and centrists within the party. She previously ran unsuccessfully for the PC’s top spot in 2009 and 2015. She is not currently a candidate in any of the province’s 124 ridings.
Backlash over voter registration process
Problems with the voter registration process drew significant backlash from Ford, Mulroney and Granic Allen earlier this week. Ford said the leadership vote 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.
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.
Saturday’s delays and ultimate postponement were the latest in a long list of challenges that have plagued the party in the days since Brown stepped down.
His departure led to a power struggle in the PC’s top ranks and illuminated deep divisions within caucus. It also 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, 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.
Of all the candidates, only Granic Allen spoke to reporters following Lefton’s brief address. She pledged to support whoever emerges victorious.