The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - One must imagine that these questions guided the preparations by Progressive Conservative candidates for their Leadership debate, in Ottawa, Wednesday night. They are on the minds of Ontario citizens who will choose the province’s next government three months from now on June 7.
It was the last chance for aspirants Tanya Granic Allen, Christine Elliott, Doug Ford and Catherine Mulroney to display their political assets to their Party and the Ontario public prior to the start of the voting process.
That vote has now been deferred to March 8, because the Party has not yet achieved a level of security in the technology and voting system that will guarantee every member the right to vote and the assurance the vote is legitimate. The number of eligible voters – Party members – is in dispute ranging from a high of 17,000 to a low of 12,000 according to estimates circulated by commentators prior to the start of the debate.
Compare that to the number of 203,000 touted by former leader Patrick Brown (ousted, re-approved for candidacy to replace himself, resigned from the race 48 hours before the debate) a few short weeks ago.
This is a Party in need of “healing” itself if, it is to take on the task of “healing the province”, no matter what the [suspect] polls say about voter intentions.
Certainly, Granic Allen a capable debater, direct, no nonsense personality, coherent and focused, did not pull any punches. For her the “rot and corruption” of the Patrick Brown administration needs to be eradicated and the Party returned to its roots if it is to be a contender again.
Not for her this business of “gimmick politics”. She advocates rescinding the 50-plus nomination meetings where the Party Executive, ie., Brown’s people, imposed an illegitimate candidate and letting the democratic process decide. Only then would the Party produce viable candidates, viable platforms that reflect the needs of both urban and rural Ontario and a viable alternative to Kathleen Wynne’s government.
She was/is on fire. Probably too hot for the “downtown, laid-back, progressives” to handle. She made Doug Ford look tame by comparison.
Doug Ford, for his part, relied on the Trumpian mantra: I’m a businessman; I know how to get things done; I cut taxes and let entrepreneurs do the rest. Probably no longer a great line, given the perceived ineptness of the American president.
Ford, the only male on stage, nonetheless handled the issue of “inappropriate sexual behaviour” in a work environment – political or otherwise - with credible firmness.
Catherine Mulroney, on the other hand, on all questions seemed content to offer a picture of a quiet, confident lady-in-waiting – “above the fray”, cautious about being drawn into diversions but ever ready to defend against scurrilous jabs. Were it not for her last name (a blessing, or a curse, for all progeny of “celebrated” personalities), she might not have been noticed at all.
Yet, she is not without valuable attributes. Her “handlers” surely miscalculated the opportunity to place them in evidence. Either that or their calculation was to attract second ballot support for a “calm but connected alternative”.
On the night, however, that alternative would appear to be Christine Elliott. She demonstrated a broad understanding of the issues; addressed them with the assuredness of one who has plan; and, capably separated Party operational challenges from the larger issues of governing the province.
Alone among the candidates, she was able to point to her elected, legislative and party experience. She has been here before. This time with greater energy and composure.
Elliott seemed intent on staying the course calling for “competent management of issues”, rather than offering “vision” for a new Ontario. Plenty of time for that during an election campaign perhaps.
For now, the membership has to buy into the argument that says the Conservatives have to get beyond the mess that the Brown-Dykstra-Fedeli troika have foisted on them as merely a temporary setback.