John Tory is in Ottawa tomorrow to meet with members of the Ontario CPC caucus and key federal Conservative strategists. Of course, the PCPO leader comes to the nation’s capital under the cloud of a challenge of a possible leadership review being organized by conservative strategist Nick Kouvlalis, who is leading the charge for a review with his “yes” campaign. The leader of the “no” (to review) campaign is John Capobianco, a long-time conservative organizer in his own right. After interviewing Kouvalis on his efforts last week, I immediately sought to ask Capobianco a set of questions about the possible leadership review and his team’s efforts to shield Tory and promote him as a strong leader for the party membership.
ST.CA: “Mr. Capobianco, in the face of this challenge to John Tory’s leadership of the PCPO, do you recognize this as a significant ‘grassroots’ campaign of the base, or the efforts of a few discontents?”
JC: One should never discount the efforts of party members who are calling for a leadership review. I’ve seen some websites and read reports of a dinner where folks gathered to discuss organizing for a
review vote in February. I don’t think these can be called either a
campaign of the ‘grassroots’ or efforts of a few discontents – however,
I take all constructive criticisms seriously as does John Tory. Given
our loss, I certainly think this is a time of valid discussion for the
entire party, and John Tory has been at the forefront of this
discussion, meeting Tories in their ridings face to face or calling them
on the phone, which is about as ‘grassroots’ and genuine as one can get.
The response John has been getting is good, he is out there, with the
party and real conservatives, every day, face to face, hearing about
their concerns and, more importantly, learning from them.
ST.CA: “In the last campaign, John Tory stated that ‘Leadership Matters’. Some say that the results indicated that Tory failed this standard that he set for himself. Why should Tory stay on now?”
JC: It’s true that John Tory set high standards for himself, and didn’t achieve what he wanted to, he knows and laments this. However within weeks of the election, he was out in the ridings, face to face with the party and working with them to discover what he did wrong, which shows he is indeed a leader.
Tory should stay on because his drive and energy to create a compelling conservative vision for the province is relentless. Out of nowhere he almost became mayor of Toronto, and within three years of winning the leadership of the PC party – at a time, I will add, where we were $10 million in debt and with the lowest morale I’ve seen in years – many thought we were in a position to win the province, despite an economy that appeared strong and huge liberal spending.
When you talk to party members, of course they’re upset at the loss; we as Conservatives have certainly suffered our fair share of losses both provincially and nationally over the years, but we usually determine where we made our mistakes and went about fixing them… we don’t and should not get into the practice of defeating our leaders after one election loss. If we did, we wouldn’t have had Mike Harris as Premier or Stephen Harper as our current Prime Minister, both suffered initial electoral defeat, but come back to win their respective elections the second time.
Tory is currently listening to and working with the party and over the next 4 years will create an incredibly dynamic Progressive Conservative Party.
ST.CA: “The ‘yes’ side of the campaign has made their first move. Will you be responding? What will you be doing to sign up as many delegates as possible to meet the challenge, whatever its degree, from the ‘no’ side?”
JC: Tory will be doing what he has been doing since October, meeting with the party, face to face and in the open, learning and letting progressive conservatives across the province know that they can trust him to be a strong Conservative leader.
Much is being made of Tory’s tour to connect with the membership for feedback and for a post-mortem to the election loss. Critics on both sides of the debate argue about the merits of how these consultations are being held. Tory’s people would seem to claim that these consultations show a grassroots effort to consult the membership, while the “yes” campaign suggests that the consultations are framed by Tory and show little accountability. Capobianco seems to counter the self-proclaimed label of “grassroots” by the “yes” campaign by suggesting that the campaign is being organized by a handful of senior conservatives.