MARKHAM, Ont.: A crowd poised to welcome the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party went home issuing angry catcalls on Saturday as officials said they’d been forced to review the voting results.
Hartley Lefton, chair of the party’s leadership election organizing committee, offered no details of the snag that delayed the announcement of the new leader by 4.5 hours and offered no timeline other than that the matter would be resolved “in the short term.”
“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, triggering boos and jeers from the crowd.
Lefton then dismissed the assembled party members from the hall they’d occupied since late Saturday morning, saying the organization no longer had access to the premises. He said the announcement of the new leader would be made via press release at an unspecified time.
More than 64,000 votes were cast in the hastily organized and problem-plagued leadership race, but Lefton did not indicate whether any of the votes were being scrutinized.
Four candidates _ former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, Toronto lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney and parental rights advocate Tanya Granic Allen _ are competing to lead the Progressive Conservatives.
They’re vying to replace Patrick Brown, who resigned abruptly in late January amid allegations of sexual misconduct that he has consistently denied.
Elliott has painted herself as the only one with the political experience to get the party election-ready in time, while Ford has said his business sense equips him to cut government waste.
Meanwhile, Mulroney _ the only leadership hopeful already declared a candidate in a riding _ has presented herself as a fresh face, and Granic Allen has emphasized her ties to the party’s grassroots.
While all four have pledged to scrap a proposed carbon tax that formed a key pillar of the party’s election platform introduced in November under Brown, the race has focused less on detailed policy promises and more on the party’s culture.
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’s departure.
The party uncovered issues with the party’s structure, problems with its nomination processes, and discrepancies in its membership numbers, leading interim leader Vic Fedeli to declare he would “root out the rot” before handing over the reins to a new leader.
The party has since reopened two nominations in contested ridings and abandoned a legal battle with a former party member who clashed with Brown over the nominations and other issues.
The leadership race itself has stirred strife and forced party brass to defend their decisions on a number of fronts.
Chief among these were a number of complaints about the complex rrules for the online vote, including repeated claims that the necessary voting documents sent via regular mail were not reaching party members on time.
The Organizing Committee extended the registration deadline three times and even gave members an extra half-day to cast their ballots, but such actions were not enough to fend off allegations of vote suppression and corruption within the party ranks.
A lawyer even filed an injuction the day before the convention seeking to delay the leadership decision by an additional week in order to give more members a chance to receive their documents and cast a ballot.
Superior Court Justice Todd Archibald dismissed the request to extend the race that had already attracted more than 64,000 votes and cost $1.5 million.
At Saturday’s thwarted convention, Fedeli called upon the party to rise above the recent differences and pull together to defeat the Liberals in a scheduled June election.
“Our work does not end today because whatever differences (we have) as Progressive Conservatives, our differences are small compared to everything that unites us,” Fedeli told the crowd before the announcement was due to be made. “The real campaign, the real test, still lies ahead of us.”