Doug Ford is now the undisputed leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party, after the rival he defeated by a razor-thin margin agreed not to challenge his victory in court.
Christine Elliott congratulated Mr. Ford publicly after meeting with him on Sunday evening, saying in a statement that she was “confident in the results” of the leadership contest – despite vowing fewer than 24 hours earlier to get to the bottom of what her team called “serious irregularities” with the party’s online-voting process.
“Christine Elliott has been a long-time Conservative. She is a class act,” said Michael Harris, a Tory MPP and her campaign co-chair. “Although it was a tough few weeks, she has put the party first.”
Ms. Elliott, a former MPP who has tried, and failed, twice before to win the leadership, not only won the popular vote, she also won in more ridings than Mr. Ford. A tally of votes on the third and final ballot shows Ms. Elliott had more votes in 64 of the 125 ridings, according to figures obtained by The Globe and Mail.
But the PC party’s weighted-voting system gave the victory to Mr. Ford, the former Toronto city councillor whose leadership bid enjoyed the backing of just two members of the Progressive Conservative caucus.
Ms. Elliott’s concession means Mr. Ford, the older brother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, is now free to campaign for the premier’s job in earnest while also working to unite a party that has all but torn itself apart in public over the past six weeks.
Ms. Elliott said on Sunday night that she planned to run as a candidate in the coming election.
The chaos that has engulfed the Progressive Conservatives since two women accused former leader Patrick Brown of sexual misconduct – accusations Mr. Brown denies – followed the party to its leadership announcement on Saturday.
Party members who had gathered at a Markham convention hall expecting to fete their new leader instead booed and jeered when a party official sent them home around 7 p.m.
With Ms. Elliott’s team challenging the results behind the scenes, the party’s leadership election oversight committee was not ready to declare a winner and the crowd had to vacate the ballroom.
Mr. Ford’s victory was announced in a smaller room in the centre a little after 10 p.m. A few hours later, Ms. Elliott’s campaign released a statement promising to challenge the results, saying that “entire towns” of PC voters had been allocated to the wrong ridings.
Around midday Sunday, the party’s leadership election oversight committee put out a statement reinforcing its decision that Mr. Ford was the “definitive” winner of the leadership contest.
There was no recount at any time and no issue with the counting or tabulation of ballots, the statement said.
“A question arose with respect to the allocation of a specific list of voters, and whether they had been assigned to the appropriate riding.… Upon an exhaustive review of this list as requested by a campaign – and as permitted under the rules – the integrity of this list of electors was reconfirmed and there was no impact on the results.”
Throughout the day on Sunday, PC members of parliament and party grandees, including former premier Mike Harris, began publicly calling on Ms. Elliott to abandon her talk of a challenge and focus on defeating Kathleen Wynne in the June 7 election.
Mr. Ford basked in the glow of his win as he greeted well wishers at Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday, with MPP Lisa MacLeod at his side.
“[Mr. Ford] was congratulated by nearly everyone we met with big cheers, requests for selfies & many handshakes,” tweeted Ms. MacLeod, who remained neutral during the leadership contest. “No denying his popularity in richest voter pool in Ontario.”
Richard Ciano, a former president of the Ontario PC party whose political marketing company worked on Ms. Elliott’s leadership bid, said on Sunday that he urged Ms. Elliott’s team to rally behind Mr. Ford.
“I’ve given them my opinion that [a challenge] is ridiculous; you’ve got to just accept the result,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a basis for a challenge of it. I think Doug Ford is the Leader.”
Mr. Ciano knows Mr. Ford better than many in his party. He and Nick Kouvalis, his partner in the firm Campaign Research, ran the late Rob Ford’s successful 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign. Doug Ford played a major part in that race, while also campaigning for and winning his brother’s old council seat.
“He’s performed better than I would have expected throughout this campaign,” Mr. Ciano said. “I don’t know if it’s the death of Rob or the general process of maturity. But he’s not the same Doug that we dealt with eight years ago. He seems to have matured and evolved since then, and mellowed.”
KAREN HOWLETT, JUSTIN GIOVANNETTI AND KELLY GRANT
The Globe and Mail, March 11, 2018