Now that the sun has come up on a new day at Queen’s Park, many are taking stock of last night’s PC loss Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election. There are a few truths that need to be said as well.
I sincerely believe that the PC Party will now be better equipped to fight an election against Dalton McGuinty than it would have been under Tory. A leadership process will bring out policy debate, will highlight personalities and will give Ontario a fresh face for the next election.
As for John Tory, obligatory nice guy references aside, the guy was not a conservative’s Conservative. In fact, at the recent PC policy convention I quickly identified Tory’s base of support within the room as it voted on policy. I came to realize that an easy crib sheet for voting became to vote in the opposite way of these folks. When John Tory announces that he’ll step aside later today, the party will begin the process of voting for a leader that will excite conservatives. Though it was a by-election, 10,000 PC voters stayed home last night and you know you have a problem when its the electorate that informs the party that it is not conservative enough. In politics (and more often Liberal politics) lack of ideological purity can be forgiven if your leader has a sharp political instinct. John Tory was weak on both.
In politics, as in life, one should focus upon areas where one excels. John Tory excels at a number things, but I don’t believe this pursuit is one where his efforts and skill will be most appreciated.
Earlier tonight, as the polls came in, it became clearer and clearer that PC Party of Ontario leader John Tory would lose his last chance at challenging Dalton McGuinty for the Premier’s office. By the time the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election was called by the Canadian Press at about 10:30pm, Tory’s margin of loss represented a 9% point drop from former PC MPP Laurie Scott’s electoral footing. Scott beat her opponent by 20% during the last provincial election.
Tory has scheduled a press conference for Friday and many expect the embattled leader to resign. Having faced a humiliating loss in the previous provincial election after championing a policy on religious school choice and polarizing the party after a divisive leadership review, it is unknown how the former CEO of Rogers and commissioner of the CFL expects to quarterback his team after this evening’s loss of what was considered a “safe seat”. Tory did hint to reporters tonight – and I’m paraphrasing – that his future ‘may not be in public life’.
From reports on the ground, party workers were not expecting this loss though some cite the typical organizational campaign and e-day deficiencies. I have it on good authority that the PCs did not do any internal polling in the riding for this contest. (I have it on better authority that polling was done and 10 days prior to e-day and it showed Tory trailing by 5 points).
As a leader, John Tory retired the debt of the PC Party bringing the party’s fiscal position back into the black. The party will hopefully continue to benefit from his strengths as a fundraiser. Many have described Tory as a good man, though not the right man. Despite his shortcomings tonight, public service is a sacrifice to one’s family life and career and I know that Conservatives, myself included, are thankful for his tireless contributions. From my personal experience, I’ve known Tory to be a dedicated, passionate and faithful activist for Canadian Conservatives. I know that he’ll continue to be committed to advancing our parties both provincially and federally.
Names of potential candidates to replace Tory as leader of the PCPO that are being pushed around tonight include Christine Elliot, John Yakabuski, Randy Hillier, Peter Shurman and Tim Hudak. It is expected that many will step forward as there were many known to be waiting in the wings prior to the previous leadership review.
An interesting and chaotic era in provincial Conservative politics begins tomorrow. Rebuilding starts in the morning.
FLASHBACK: Five years ago this month, I met John Tory as he went on a provincial listening tour before contesting the provincial PC leadership.