Ontario PC Membership Numbers

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.

Christine Elliott on fiscal policy

I had the opportunity to chat with Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott about the fiscal policy that’s earned her a few headlines over the past two weeks. Specifically, I asked about EI and her flat tax proposal. If the other candidates want to chat about specific policies they’ve outlined recently now that membership sales have cut off, please send me an email and we’ll set something up.

Related: Tim Hudak interview, Christine Elliott interview (different one), Frank Klees interview, Randy Hillier interview

EI Politics

A hallmark of Michael Ignatieff so far as Liberal leader, both actual and interim, has been his penchant to transactional politics; he has so far picked his battles on small and short term policy differences rather that outlining a long-term plan. At the Liberal convention which concluded yesterday in Vancouver, Ignatieff did not spell out his demands, policy outlook or election warnings to the government in his convention speech, he felt that such minor details would be more appropriate for a press conference proceeding the event. Despite his insistence that he will be a transformative visionary leader that is looking forward to shaping Canada over the next eight years through 2017, it is not too credible when Ignatieff’s Canadian hindsight only extends back just five. The latest election threat (but not necessarily an election) is his insistence that the Prime Minister look at EI reform to temporarily extend benefits to workers who have worked 360 hours and to harmonize standards for EI benefits across jurisdictions.

The history of EI in this country has been quite tumultuous for parties that have manipulated it, back to RB Bennett who proposed it, to Trudeau who vastly expanded it to Mulroney and Chretien who subsequently slashed it to Martin who allowed EI surpluses to balloon under his watch. Ironically, it was Chretien in 1995 that changed the standards of EI payments to reflect local unemployment rates breaking down benefits by region. Though all of Canadians pay into EI, the benefits distributed are dependent upon local employment rates. Thus, EI is sort of like equalization but for jobs.

“It seems unfair to Canadians that if you pay into the thing, your eligibility depends on where you live. We think 360 (hours) is roughly where we ought to be.” — Michael Ignatieff

Now Mr. Ignatieff is proposing that we do away with regional differences and temporarily make EI more generous. An election threat from Ignatieff does not ring in the ears of the Prime Minister today after the Liberal leader put the screws to the Liberal senate to pass the Conservative budget just months ago — a budget, which among other things, included a global five-week extension of EI benefits despite region.

What Mr. Ignatieff may instead be attempting is to wrestle an easy “concession” from the Conservative government in order to show that he intends on making Parliament work while boasting that he will decide the timing of its dissolution. EI may indeed be an important policy issue for the Liberal leader to champion as for deregionalizing the program would be beneficial for Ontario, a province that disproportionately pays into it for the benefits received. As Ignatieff is looking to regain Ontario seats lost under the wayward leadership of Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader may figure that he can shore up his Ontario base and challenge Stephen Harper where the Conservative Prime Minister needs to grow.

Yet today, a spoiler appeared on the scene. Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott and wife of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty also declared that the EI program was ineffective and unfair for Ontario. Elliott proposed reforming the program to benefit a fairer proportion of out-of-work Ontarians considering the number of the province’s residents pay into it. If EI cannot be reformed, Elliott suggests, Ontario should opt-out of the program. Does this signal a tag-team effort by federal and provincial Conservative forces to deflate Ignatieff’s election threat? Christine Elliott may be serving as a safety valve to deflate Ignatieff by suggesting that a friendly to the Conservative government is advocating a similar position. If a June election is contingent upon EI reform for Ontario, Elliott may be providing the Conservatives cover should they move forward with reform and it would have the added benefit of splitting credit from Ignatieff.