If there is any single action in the past few weeks that speaks to the quality of the common sense of the Progressive Conservative caucus at Queen’s Park it was the choice of North Bay’s Vic Fedeli as the party’s interim leader, announcing that he was their preferred choice to carry the Tory blue banner into the fast looming June election with cries of jubilant “Vic Tory.”
Alas, it was not to be.
In almost the same instant as Mr. Fedeli was elevated to the post of interim leader, the party’s backroom operators determined that, despite the immediacy of the upcoming provincial election, and the cost in electoral powder (read money) that a leadership contest would spend, the dictates of grassroots democracy demanded they ignore the choice of the people who were elected by the people, to launch just such a divisive gladiatorial bout.
It was a decision that they likely soon came to regret. In fact, there was an eleventh hour attempt to pull their chips from the fire and cancel the leadership call, but wiser heads were failed to prevail despite the ignominious axing of the party president who led the charge for a leadership contest under his own cloud.
Since then, the waters have become even murkier as the new interim leader announced a review of suspect memberships that had grown under the helm of the Tories’ swiftly and as some local Tories have suggested, brutally disowned former leader Patrick Brown. Seems as many as one-third of the 200,000 memberships that were a boasting point for Mr. Brown turned out to not pass muster in the full light of day. Not an auspicious beginning to a leadership contest where memberships count, literally, in selecting a new leader.
In keeping with the rapid (almost social media speed) of current developments on the Progressive Conservative leadership front came word from those seeking the permanent crown. Currently leading at the head of the pack (in the polls in any event) is Christine Elliott, the former heir-in-waiting who went down in an upset victory fueled by a social Conservative tsunami harnessed by Mr. Brown (who seemed to just as swiftly cast his evangelical dance partners aside once the crown was won). But there is no denying the cache of one Caroline Mulroney, whose father’s name provides a provincial Progressive Conservative counter-dynasty foil to that of the federal leader Justin Trudeau. Although untested in the fires of the political forge, Ms. Mulroney’s private sector chops as lawyer and business leader play well in the minds of Tory partisans against that of the school teacher with the nice hair (legacies of darkened hotel room dealings notwithstanding).
And then cometh a Ford. Doug Ford, brother of the Toronto mayor who managed to maintain an astoundingly reliant popularity with the voters of the Big Smoke despite crack scandals, ill-advised drunken tirades and a near constant barrage of other faux pas that would torpedo a lesser figure (dining commentaries anyone?). While harnessing the still formidable power of that fabled Ford Nation, Mr. Ford’s brand holds a great deal less of the negative baggage of his late brother (especially with the soon-to-be realized legalization of marijuana).
Sorry folks, the rest of the field will be de facto also-rans. The dictates of a whirlwind campaign just about guarantee that the number of remaining people with the organizational moxie and financial clout to pull an upset off can be counted on…no fingers.
This tragic comedy will be playing into a field where many of the Tory blue rank and file are already well and thoroughly rankled by the Bill Davian (Davis) style centrist helming instituted by Mr. Brown whose single minded pursuit of power held no cow sacred.
All in all, the next few months promise to be a show to end all shows for the political junkies among us and a feeding frenzy for the media (a thank you for that goes to back room folks by the way). But in the end it appears that the Progressive Conservative back room mavins have traded a solid crack at smoothly patching over the crevices with a tried and true proven leader to take down their Liberal nemesis for a crap shoot in a game whose dice may well already be loaded.
This is a very bad strategy in light of the very popular play that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s policies have been seeing in the polls, despite her own unpopular numbers and the somewhat shopworn Liberal brand. Since many of those policies have been blatantly lifted from the NDP and are decidedly more left than right, voters may soon be turning their heads in another direction.
Bill Davis was once wont to say that “bland works.” Anyone who has watched a recent speech from the somewhat less than fiery Andrea Horwath might be wondering if she is onto something.