Local MPP and Elliott supporter optimistic party can pull together
While Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith was a prominent figure on Christine Elliott’s campaign for the Ontario PC leadership, he says he’ll work to help promote unity under Doug Ford.
On Saturday, the party ended a tumultuous six-week campaign to replace ousted leader Patrick Brown by naming Ford its new leader after the second round of balloting in a preferential system that allowed party members to rank the four leadership contenders on the ballot. Though there was some debate about whether Ford or Elliott had won, the latter eventually would concede.
“I thought it was Christine’s time to be our leader and it was within a whisker of that happening,” Smith said. “It was an agonizing five or seven hours, or however long it took to get to that final ballot.”
It has been reported that the margin of victory was within 150 points out of a possible 12,000 candidates could earn during the campaign and it has also been reported that Elliott also won in more ridings and had a higher percentage of the popular vote than Ford.
Smith, who was Elliott’s campaign co-chair, said the campaign felt Caroline Mulroney would have fared better in the initial poll and that more of her support could have gone to Elliott as she dropped off the ballot. Ford polled well, however, and he received strong secondary support from social conservative Tanya Granic Allen’s supporters and stronger than anticipated backing from Mulroney backers.
“With the ranked balloting, if Caroline had done a little better, that would have put us over the top. Doug ran a small campaign, and so did (Granic Allen), whose votes en masse went to Doug.”
Smith wouldn’t call into question whether party members in his own new riding, Bay of Quinte, or elsewhere in the province not receiving voting information via mail might have impacted the result. He did, however, reiterate his belief that the party was not in a great position to pull the race off.
“Ultimately, this process was riddled with problems and I’m not going to blame the process for the outcome. Certainly, this process was far from perfect,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons, if you recall, six weeks ago when we chatted I said the party wasn’t in a position to pull this kind of online vote off without glitches. I had pressured the executive not to go into this race, but to go into the election with Vic Fedeli. In hindsight, was I right? I think I probably was.”
That said, Smith acknowledged the process produced increased engagement and discussion, in comparison to late January when the issue surfaced. Now, after over 64,000 people voted, he believes the PCs can move forward.
“Christine Elliott was the safer choice for our party, I don’t think there’s any question about that but Doug is a good guy and I like Doug. I thought the experience Christine could bring to the table was the difference maker and I still believe that,” he said. “Christine and Doug agreed they’re going to work together and make sure the party unites.”
Smith said it’s now incumbent on longtime MPPs, caucus members and critics, to ensure the former Toronto city councillor is as well informed as possible on the issues going forward and that collectively they design a platform for the June 7 election campaign that will work.
Asked if that document would be more right-of-centre than the party’s The People’s Guarantee document released last November, Smith said “I would suspect so,” but said thus far, it really hasn’t been discussed. He’s had a few text correspondences with Ford in recent days, but most were specific to the energy file and to local health-care issues in the Quinte region. In time, he’d like to advocate for a centrist platform.
“Most people, I don’t think, in Ontario want a hard-right platform,” he said. “We realize this is our election for the taking and we have to put a reasonable platform on the table. That would be my message when we talk to Doug and his team. If we can salvage as much of The People’s Guarantee as we can, that’d be great.”
Smith said he believes the platform won’t include a carbon tax and that the PCs will be looking at other ways to fund the promises they plan to make.
Though Ford’s populism has made him a polarizing candidate for some, Smith acknowledged he could help the party break through in some areas that had previously been difficult for the PCs to contend with.
“He had a strong showing in the results, riding by riding. He has a strong following with the Ford Nation and he has a following in parts of the GTA like Mississauga, Etobicoke, Richmond Hill, and Markham. Thos are areas we need to win to form government,” Smith said. “I think we’ve heard from all our candidates across the province that they’re hearing loud and clear people want to get rid of Kathleen Wynne and the Liberal government. Right now — as long as we put the appropriate platform on the table — we are the best option. His popularity should help us.”
Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff will contest the election in Bay of Quinte for the Liberals. The NDP is expected to select its candidate March 25. James Engelsman will carry the Trillium Party banner, while Stephen Snutch has registered on behalf of the None of the Above Party, a coalition of independents who pledge to represent their constituents first.