Saturday, July 5, 2014

What can the results of the last Ontario PC leadership race tell us about the current one? That Elliott could be hard to beat

Long-time readers will remember when I did some fairly in-depth coverage of the 2009 Ontario PC leadership race. I was reading over some blog posts from that era, bit of a trip down memory lane. I kind of forgot Hudak's big selling point to grassroots conservatives was pledging to eliminate Human Rights TribunalsChristine Elliott running on a flat tax to increase her appeal beyond just red Tories, and of course Hudak Bingo!

The map at the top of this post shows the first round results from the 2009 leadership results, coloured in by which candidate won plurality support in each riding. As a reminder, the PC's used a weighted one member one vote system, so every riding had equal support, from Conservative strongholds in rural Ontario to weak seats in downtown Toronto that even during a leadership race might only have a few dozen members. Hudak is in dark blue, Klees is in light blue, Elliott in green, Hillier in red. You can expand the map by clicking on it.

So, looking at these results, (and my analysis from 2009) what can we learn from the 2009 race that might be applicable to the current Ontario PC race?

  • Elliott, the presumptive front-runner has an advantage in the 905/416, since no other serious candidate from the area seems likely to enter the race. Looking at the results from 2009, Frank Klees was very successful in signing up new members from cultural communities in the 905, as he dominated Peel region, his home York region, and the suburbs of Toronto. Elliott did well in most of the downtown core and her home base of Durham region, but was unable to make gains in a lot of the inner 905 belt. With no other serious candidate likely to emerge from Toronto/905, Elliott could dominate much of the GTA, which would go a long way to help establish her front-runner credentials
  • Breaking into the GTA will be the challenge for any of the other potential candidates, who would all have somewhat of a regional base, but would likely have to dominate their home bases. Lisa Macleod, Vic Fedeli and Monte McNaughton would have home bases in the East, North and Southwest respectively. Now, in 2009 Tim Hudak was able to win the leadership without doing particularly well in the GTA (he won a few scattered seats and split Halton region with Elliot) because in large part he dominated his home base of Niagara/Southern Ontario, but he also had strong results in Northern Ontario and in more rural ridings across the other parts of the province as well. Having favourite sons/daughters from each of the North, Southwest and East could make it difficult for any of them to establish province-wide movements, although I could see Lisa Macleod, who has toured the province pretty extensively and has been fairly high profile as opposition MPPs go being perhaps best suited to pull it off. 
  • If Macleod might be the strongest candidate against Elliott, she'll have to take some caution from looking at these maps. Presumably she would be the Eastern Ontario favourite daughter, and that means she would need to build a coalition of PC supporters ranging from downtown Ottawa moderates to Randy Hillier supporters from the rural areas. Macleod might have to tack to the right both to rally the non insignificant numbers of very conservative conservatives in Eastern Ontario, but also to try and establish a solid Blue Tory vs. Red Tory match-up against Elliott to establish her credentials as the main right-of-Elliott candidate. 
  • Monte McNaughton, who could be a Southern/Southwestern Ontario favourite son was also a champion of right-to-work legislation that caused Hudak some headaches but also could endear him to the more conservative minded activists who are important in leadership races. With Monte needing to dominate Southwestern Ontario to establish himself as a legitimate contender, and Macleod needing to target rural Southwestern conservatives to establish herself as the main right-wing contender against Elliott, the membership sign up and organizational battles that could happen between Macleod and McNaughton in that part of the province could be interesting
  • With that in mind, Elliott has the clearest path to victory: Dominate the GTA, and hold her own in other parts of the province. MPP endorsements don't mean everything  (MPP endorsements can have a pretty big range of importance on the local membership base, sometimes big, sometimes not so much) but that she has endorsements already from MPPs from her home competitors bases (Norm Miller from Northern Ontario, Todd Smith from Eastern Ontario, Jeff Yurek and Michael Harris from the Southwest amongst others) bodes well.

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