Membership sales for voting eligability for the Ontario PC leadership race closed last night and there have been reports and boasts from various campaigns as to their numbers. A source close to the party called me tonight and passed on the following information.
Before the leadership race began, party membership stood at 8,500 members. Through the PC Party website and through late submissions from riding associations who have re-sync’d their numbers with the central party office, that number has risen to 15,000. These new memberships are not attributed to any campaign.
The surprise news is that Frank Klees sold the most memberships compared to the other candidates, according to my source. Klees has reportedly sold about 9,000 new memberships for the party. Upon further analysis, this may not be so surprising as Klees sold more memberships in the 2004 contest as than anyone did in this one; Klees has the benefit of old lists of supporters that he could call upon. Thus, the quality of the memberships is a bit suspect and it is unknown as to whether he’ll be able to get these members out to vote. Klees’ membership numbers are concentrated in York and Peel regions.
Christine Elliott apparently is in second place with about 8,000 new memberships sold. Elliott’s membership base is fairly spread out but has high concentration in Toronto, 905, Windsor and some in SW Ontario. Elliott’s campaign is reportedly dead in the Niagara region.
Tim Hudak, of course, is very strong in the Niagara region. Further, his numbers show strength in Hamilton and fairly strong in Peel region. Hudak comes in at just under 7,000, according to my source.
Randy Hillier rounds out the pack with about 3,100 memberships sold. No surprise, Hillier is strong in eastern Ontario but is quite weak in the other regions.
Do these numbers give us any insight as to who might win this? In my opinion, not too much. 6,500 memberships were sold through the party website and I know some campaigns, such as the Hudak campaign have aggressively sold online and via the party site. On the other hand, I’ve heard that the Elliott campaign has polled well among the already established 8,500 members.
I think that we can make a few conclusions:
– there are no hard conclusions except to say this may be anyone’s race except for Hillier
– Klees may surprise, but only if his numbers are firm. He may also take a chunk of the established membership base.
– Hudak’s sales underwhelm, but barely. CP ran a story last night detailing weak fundraising totals (behind 10:1 vs. Elliott). But in the end, members voting will win this. If the party’s 6,500 non-attributed members break Hudak, he may still be strong. Yet, despite this we cannot and should not conclude that Hudak is the perceived front-runner even though he’s worn this title up until now.
– Elliott is within striking distance. If her numbers are indeed spread out as they are, she may be able to deliver under the party’s 100 point per riding system.
– Hudak and Elliott will do their best to appeal to Hillier support. Elliott’s flat tax proposal and Hudak’s HRC triangulation are obvious overtures to Hillier’s base. We will likely see more though I think it will be Elliott that sides against the bears. Hudak, however, has opportunity elsewhere in Hillier’s platform.
– Klees’ strategy will centre around raising money to deliver votes, and running on experience. If Klees projects as Premier, he may become this province’s next head of government. Those that have written Klees off early will be taking another look given these numbers.