I remember the crisis in Ontario politics while escaping “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver”

Feb 1st, 2018 | By | Category: In Brief

By Graeme MacKay, Hamilton Spectator — October 30, 2014.

FEBRUARY 1, 2018, 2 AM ET. Like others who hang out at the counterweights.ca office in the old streetcar suburbs of the provincial capital city, tomorrow I am off on a brief respite from the snows of perfidious Ontario in the exotic Caribbean. (We are back the week of February 12.)

Like still others again, I’ve become suddenly obsessed by the dramatic surprise gurglings of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, that began this past Wednesday, January 24, and came to an initial conclusion on what is now yesterday, Wednesday, January 31.

(And for deeper background on the issue see my earlier posts on this site : “Who will benefit most from Patrick Brown’s sudden downfall as Ontario Progressive Conservative leader?” ; and “Sunday Bloody Sunday with the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.”)

Just before packing for the Caribbean, I can’t resist quickly jotting down my own understandings of the current state of the art, based on gleanings from mainstream and related media and a few brief conversations with seasoned observers of Ontario government and politics, at Queen’s Park and elsewhere.

To start with, in the wake of a key PC party executive meeting on the evening of January 31, at 10:03 PM the Toronto Star’s Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Robert Benzie tweeted : “BREAKING: @OntarioPCParty will announce new leader March 10. Voting through secure remote electronic balloting March 2-8. $750K spending limit. $75K candidate entry fee plus $25K deposit plus $25K membership list access fee.”

Further details appear in a piece by Benzie and his colleague Rob Ferguson on the Star website :    “Tories aim for March leadership contest despite party chaos after Brown scandal … Interim leader Vic Fedeli’s office is investigating the party’s list of members and the party is also determining the damage caused by Chinese hackers who accessed the party’s internal database.”

More exactly, in preparation for voting by the broad party membership through secure remote electronic balloting, March 2-8, “Fedeli’s office is investigating the members’ list.” Former party leader Patrick “Brown claimed there were 200,000 people in the party, but sources say the actual number is closer to 75,000.”

Karen Howlett’s parallel report in the Globe and Mail — “Ontario PCs to pick new leader March 10” — suggests the current state of the leadership race : “Former Toronto councillor Doug Ford is the only contender so far. Caroline Mulroney, daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, and Rod Phillips, the former head of Postmedia News, have been mentioned as possible candidates …” [UPDATE FEB 1, 3:35 PMThe admirable, well-informed Don Martin  has just tweeted : “Reports confirm it will be Caroline Mulroney verses Christine Elliott for the Ontario PC leadership (plus Doug Ford). I’m kinda thinking Premier Kathleen Wynne should be even more nervous now.” I’m guessing the premier has already had a lot of practice being nervous about the 2018 Ontario election, and may even know how to deal with it. And it’s at least not yet entirely clear to me that Ms Mulroney and Ms Elliott will prove that strong as candidates.]

* * * *

Angus Reid has just reported on a very early leadership poll as well : “Ontario Politics: Tory, Mulroney, Elliott, and Baird hold greatest appeal to soft PC voters … Doug Ford has a strong base, but is unlikely to woo those in the ‘maybe PC’ column.”

Some at least older observers I’ve consulted have expressed scepticism about the ultimate electoral prospects of Caroline Mulroney.

This critique stresses that she has only even come to live in Ontario fairly recently, has as yet no practical political experience anywhere at all, and is the daughter of a federal leader who ended his own career on a deeply unpopular note.

Meanwhile,  Ryan Maloney at Huffington Post Canada has posted an intriguing piece that points to continuing Ontario PC internecine warfare : “Alex Nuttall, Conservative MP, Describes Patrick Brown’s Fall As An ‘Inside Job’ … He says ‘Toronto elites’ want to expel PC memberships based on race.”

Two columns posted on the Toronto Star site yesterday pursue allied themes. The always interesting Chantal Hébert notes how “The web of politics is a tangled one … Kathleen Wynne has long been a key ally of Trudeau’s, but with Caroline Mulroney eyeing a run for the leadership of the Ontario Tories, things are getting complicated.”

(Here again, some will urge that Brian Mulroney does not play at all as big a role in the political history of Canada as Pierre Trudeau — even if it is also true that the massive 1993 defeat of his federal Conservatives, under the sudden new leadership of  Kim Campbell, is no longer within serious living memory of most Ontario residents under, say, 40 years old.)

The second notable Toronto Star column yesterday was Martin Regg Cohn’s “How Ontario’s Tories tried to make it right but got it all wrong … Ontario Tories deserve credit for taking decisive action but is there time enough to right a sinking ship, or has the party missed the boat?”

Mr. Cohn seems to feel that the necessarily somewhat frantic house cleaning job interim Ontario PC leader Vic Fedeli has taken on may just prove too big for anyone to really succeed at.

He writes : “With an election campaign less than 100 days away, the Tories are holding a leadership campaign of their own, more circus than contest.” They are “saddled with Doug Ford as their bright light, versus Caroline Mulroney as their invincible (if currently invisible) dark horse.”

He concludes :”An internal investigation, followed by a cleanup of tainted membership lists, just in time for a leadership race, just ahead of an election to take the reins of government? I have a lot of faith in Fedeli, but I don’t believe in miracles — not even in politics.”

Time will tell, of course. And, whatever else, the June 7, 2018 Ontario election has become still more interesting.

I look forward to picking up the pieces of my own democratic voter’s understandings of just what may or may not actually be going on, after my brief escape from “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” — west of the Ottawa River.

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