The unlikely candidate the Tories should consider

By Steve Paikin - Published on January 26, 2018
the legislature at Queen's Park
The PCs aren’t out of the race, but they'll need to make a brilliant choice when it comes to an interim leader. (Matthew O'Mara)

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The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party caucus will make its most important decision in decades today — namely, how and when to replace Patrick Brown, who resigned early Thursday morning after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Liberals and New Democrats may see opportunity in the disarray the PC Party has found itself in just four and a half months before election day. But while much of the political world at Queen’s Park has cataclysmically changed over the past couple of days, here’s what hasn’t changed: the premier of Ontario is still widely disliked, and the leader of the NDP, though popular, has yet to break through as a serious option in most voters’ minds.

So what does that mean for the Tories? It means that all the hard work Brown did to get the party from 12,000 members to 200,000, all the fundraising, and all the inroads the party has made into multicultural communities might not have been in vain. But only if the PCs make a brilliant choice for their interim, and possibly permanent, leader.     

Yesterday in this space, I made the case that newcomer Caroline Mulroney — nominated candidate in York–Simcoe and daughter of a former prime minister — merits serious consideration. Today, I’m tossing another name into the hat. It’s been in the hat before. But that was several lifetimes ago, politically speaking.

Who, today, is the most successful Progressive Conservative politician in Ontario — who has conducted himself with integrity, who’s a demonstrated winner, and who’s a moderating rather than polarizing force with ample experience to get the job done?

Answer: Toronto’s mayor, John Tory.

Before you reject the idea altogether, hear me out.

Tory, of course, had the job once before, leading his party into the 2007 general election, which it lost to Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals. But he went on to experience a political resurrection in 2014, winning the Toronto mayoralty, and he seems well on his way toward re-election in October. So in some respects, it would seem crazy for Tory to give up a job he loves — and in which he actually has the power to make things happen — in favour of a job that offers no power, and that he’s had before.

But keep in mind, Tory has always wanted to be premier of Ontario — the same job his political hero Bill Davis once held for 14 years. (In fact, he was Davis’s principal secretary nearly four decades ago, when Tory was in his 20s). He has done yeoman service for the Ontario PC Party for almost 50 years. He was a bad fit for the PC Party of a decade ago, because he was a moderate in a caucus full of right-wingers.


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But the “People’s Guarantee” — the PC platform for the June election — is a moderate document, which Tory would surely feel comfortable running on. The party has nominated many more moderate candidates, who are sympatico with the mayor’s brand of red Toryism. And for those who think Tory would have trouble managing the right-wingers in the current caucus, keep in mind he already faces the challenge of managing 44 councillors at City Hall — many of whom probably figure they could do the mayor’s job better than he can — and does well to keep the majority of them onside.

Would Tory campaign for the job? Not a chance. But if presented with a unified call from caucus to answer the bell in the party’s hour of need, would His Worship seriously consider such a request? It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t.

Of course, if Tory were to move back to provincial politics, it would trigger a chain reaction, municipally. Would Doug Ford’s candidacy suddenly seem more viable? Would potential moderate and left-wing candidates, who’d assumed they’d have to wait four years before running for mayor, suddenly jump in? (Yes, I’m talking about Josh Colle, Joe Cressy, Mike Layton, and Josh Matlow.) And if Tory thought Ford had a good chance to win in that setting, would it make him think twice about going for the PC leadership?

Let’s state the obvious here: this is entirely speculative. I reached out to the mayor for comment on this and, not surprisingly, he didn’t respond. I infer from his silence that this is something he doesn’t want to be associated with right now — at least not publicly.

But it’s out there.

So if it’s not Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli (who’s formally announced his candidacy for the leadership) or Caroline Mulroney (who hasn’t) or someone else we haven’t thought of yet, brace yourself, John Tory. Your party may be about to reach out to Ontario’s most successful Progressive Conservative in its hour of need. 

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