First shot fired in battle over Tory’s future

Next year, in February, Ontario provincial conservatives will converge on London for their annual general meeting. Ontario PC leader John Tory is sure to face pressure before that time from Ontario Tories regarding his leadership after a poor showing during the last General Election.

Today, a press release landed in my inbox from “DraftALeader.com”, a website “with the goal of giving a voice back to the grassroots of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario”. The man behind the effort is conservative Nick Kouvalis, a campaign manager from Windsor Ontario. He writes, “It’s all about accountability and John Tory’s leadership of the Party. He made the last campaign all about leadership. The people of Ontario had their say in a vote, now it’s time for the membership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. I recently attended a campaign debrief put on by John Tory to explain the dismal performance of the PCPO in the last election” said Kouvalis. “Obviously there are many people who have serious concerns about that campaign. These issues all come back to ‘Leadership’ and that is why we are here today.”

Kouvalis is calling for Ontario PC members to vote “yes” to a leadership review.

I contacted Kouvalis for an interview via email.

Of course, we can infer that what Kouvalis and his co-travelers are doing is securing delegate spots at the upcoming convention in order to vote “yes” to a question of whether or not the PC Party of Ontario should review the leadership of John Tory and we can infer that Kouvalis intends to hasten Tory’s retirement. Of course, all Tories believe in taking the pulse of congregating delegates on this question (for lack of a better system. *cough* One member, one vote *cough*), but critics would say that Kouvalis’ strategy here is to bring his agenda to the meeting.

So far, at Kouvalis’ website, he has Elizabeth Witmer, Tim Hudak, Christine Elliot, and Frank Klees under “pick a leader”. It is unclear as to whether these Ontario conservatives endorse Kouvalis’ efforts or whether they have simply been selected as potential future candidates for leadership. Noticeably absent in the list is John Tory, which further indicates what may be the real intent of the site. Hudak and Klees have been rumoured to covet the top job.

Of course, as a number of PC Tories were upset by the electoral defeat a couple of months ago, the unveiling of such a site was only a matter of time. And, of course, the first move was theirs to make.

I have contacted John Capobianco, the “point person” of the “No” campaign of the leadership review. Answers to questions that I will pose to him will of course receive equal time here.

Ontario by-elections

Two by-elections are upcoming this fall in Ontario and I’ve got a bit of info on these individuals and the timing of the contest to be called by the Prime Minister.

Maureen Harquail will be taking on Martha Hall Finley from the Liberals in Willowdale and Mark Warner will be appealing for votes in Toronto-Centre as he battles against former Liberal leadership contender and NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae.

Harquail has completed reserve duty with the Canadian armed forces and was an environmental prosecutor. She also happens to be the cousin of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The cousin connection has already come in handy as the Tories are said to be packing their war-chest for the riding pre-writ by bringing in some highly visible cabinet minsters for fundraisers. Peter MacKay has already been seen in the riding pitching for Harquail, and besides cousin Jim, environmental minister John Baird is also expected to raise some funds for the Tories in Willowdale. Willowdale consists of significant jewish, korean, persian and japanese communities among others. Retiring Liberal MP Jim Peterson won the riding last time for the Grits by 14,000 votes, however, a significant portion of that support rested in Peterson’s popular personality rather than the Liberal Party. Yet, Willowdale should be a challenging riding for the Tories to pick up. At this point, the NDP have yet to forward a candidate and Harquail would only benefit from a strong NDP effort in that riding against the Grits.

Mark Warner will be challenging for Toronto Centre. Warner is a lawyer will some impressive credentials that include lecturing in law and practicing for the OECD internationally. In the riding, Warner will have a bit of work to do as the Tories only secured 18% of the vote in the last election. We may, however, see some split with the “progressive” side of the spectrum with NDP voters showing up to vote against Rae, and a relatively stronger Green presence there. Plus as Warner is running for the incumbent government, this may produce a small boost. Warner was acclaimed February 9th and has already hosted a couple of successful fundraisers including one with justice minister Rob Nicholson and popular Ontario candidate Tim Hudak. Despite the good fundraising start, Warner is still a bit of a long shot in this realist’s opinion.

I’ve heard from a couple of senior Tories that the by-elections will be called after the provincial election. Former Toronto city councillor David Shiner, the provincial challenger in Willowdale is likely to be a bellwether for Harquail’s success in that same riding federally. The Tories may be angling to hold the federal contests after the provincial election in order not to be seen as interfering in provincial politics and to tap into the mood of the electorate after the provincial contest (whether to balance a McGuinty win, or buttress a breakthrough by John Tory)