At this writing the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is creating the political headlines. The Patrick Brown debacle has left the party searching for a standard bearer able to in short order convince Ontario voters a switch from a Liberal to PCPO administration is in the best interest of the province.
Will the Conservatives succeed? Considering the main opposition appears to be the incumbent Liberal Party of Kathleen Wynne, the answer should be a simple and resounding “yes.”
However, recent history has shown Conservatives to be encumbered by leaders whose most memorable campaign moments consisted of delivering self-inflicted gun shot wounds torpedoing their own chances of forming a government in the process. John Tory’s faith-based schools funding issue dogged the party throughout the 2007 campaign and helped Dalton McGuinty cruise across the finish line with a repeat majority Liberal government. Only the second time in seventy years the provincial Liberals scored back-to-back electoral wins.
By 2011, John Tory was gone, replaced by Tim Hudak. New Democrats were now led by Hamilton’s Andrea Horwath, following the departure of Howard Hampton. At various times polling suggested the PC’s would banish McGuinty’s Liberals to official opposition status, but following the vote, while McGuinty saw his caucus reduced by 19 members and both Horwath’s New Democrats and Hudak’s PCs picked up seats from the Liberals, it was Dalton McGuinty who began his third consecutive mandate as Premier, albeit with a minority government, one seat short of a majority.
By 2014, it was Dalton McGuinty who had handed back the keys to the Queens Park corner office, to replaced by Kathleen Wynne. Tim Hudak now seemed poised to occupy the Premier’s office before unveiling a plan to slash 100,000 public sector jobs; a plan which would carry along funding cuts to municipalities. Instant flop. The remainder of Hudak’s message of predicted resultant job growth was drowned out by Liberal and NDP campaign fury. Hudak, shouted Wynne, was prepared to knife public sector workers in the back in order to achieve a balanced budget by 2016, one year earlier than Wynne’s own promised financial balancing of government books. On election night, a grinning Wynne and bye bye Tim Hudak.
And here we are, a few short months from this year’s vote. Patrick Brown, Hudak’s replacement as PC leader, seemed poised to enter the campaign as the pollsters favourite to finally return the PCs to majority government territory. Andrea Horwath’s NDP had been flying under the radar when just weeks ago the Brown sexual harassment/assault complaints surfaced and within 24 hours Patrick Brown and his Liberal-light PC party platform were history.
The question now is who will lead Ontario’s PCs into the June 7 vote and what will the eventual leader’s platform look like? On February 3, I was scheduled to interview Doug Ford and fellow leadership candidate Christine Elliott on air (the only declared candidates by that date). Ford was late for the interview, but still delivered his strongly populist message, including an accusation the party’s hierarchy was attempting to engineer his downfall. Elliott failed to honour her commitment to call and listeners in Hamilton-Burlington, Toronto and London were, according to email and Twitter, not impressed.
What will happen by June 7? Who will the PCs select? Will Kathleen Wynne’s abysmal record (see annual Ontario Auditor General reports) and the triple digit billions of dollars debt she engineered on the hydro file alone cause voters to finally drum the Liberals from power? Will Horwath’s personal appeal cause New Democrats to score well?
The hinge question, for the fourth consecutive Ontario election is though, has the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario again managed to self-destruct with victory not only in sight, but also predicted?