Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives set their sights on defeating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in next year’s federal election as the provincial Tories gathered for their annual party convention this weekend.
Meeting for the first time since the PC government’s victory in June, party members heard from Premier Doug Ford and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer about the push to replicate the provincial Tories’ electoral success in the October 2019 federal election.
In particular, the leaders vowed to fight the federal Liberals' carbon tax, which comes into effect next year.
Mr. Scheer, who appeared at the convention on Saturday, called commuters, seniors and hockey moms the “enemy” of Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax. Mr. Ford has vowed to fight the imposition of the tax in court and through other measures, such as publicizing its cost at the gas pumps.
“We are going to defeat Justin Trudeau one year from now,” Mr. Scheer told the crowd.
In an opening-night speech on Friday, Mr. Ford said: “I’m putting the Prime Minister on notice. We’ve already taken [former premier] Kathleen Wynne’s hands out of your pockets. And Justin Trudeau, you’re next.”
Mr. Ford promised to balance the province’s books, without providing specifics, although he later added during another appearance at the convention that it “may” happen in the final year of his mandate.
Mr. Scheer also targeted Mr. Trudeau’s top advisers, referring to the “scandal-plagued McGuinty-Wynne Liberals” who currently work for the federal government. Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and his principal secretary Gerald Butts worked in Ontario politics before moving to Ottawa, as did other top staffers.
“The very same Queen’s Park Liberals who left Premier Ford and his team with the mess that they’ve inherited have moved on to Ottawa and are trying to do the same to Canada that they did to Ontario,” Mr. Scheer said. “We can’t let that happen.”
In response to Mr. Scheer’s comments, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office said, “The Conservatives have been fixated on Justin Trudeau for years. We’ve always been focused on Canadians, and we’re going to stay focused on Canadians.”
The Ontario PC Party’s general meeting came on the heels of Mr. Ford’s majority-government election victory and after months of turmoil sparked by the forced resignation of predecessor Patrick Brown amid sexual misconduct allegations. Mr. Brown, recently elected as mayor of Brampton, denies the accusations.
Almost 2,000 delegates gathered in Toronto to choose a new party president and vote on a raft of proposals, including a move to ban cash memberships sales.
Party stalwart Brian Patterson, who was endorsed by Mr. Ford and several cabinet ministers, was named provincial party president on Sunday, beating out grassroots activist Jim Karahalios.
“Our party is united and stronger than ever. I am humbled to have been chosen by the members to serve as President," Mr. Patterson said in a statement.
Mr. Patterson was a chief of staff in the governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, and a top adviser to former leaders John Tory and Tim Hudak, and previously sat on the party executive.
Conservative strategist Melissa Lantsman, who ran Mr. Ford’s election campaign “war room,” said Mr. Patterson is an experienced organizer.
“The elected executive has a big responsibility to ensure that the members feel represented and moving forward in a way that doesn’t focus on the past,” said Ms. Lantsman, who was acclaimed as a regional vice-president for Toronto.
Mr. Patterson will replace the departing Jag Badwal, who took over after Rick Dykstra resigned in January shortly before Maclean’s magazine published allegations he had sexually assaulted a young Conservative staffer while he was a member of Parliament in 2014.
In addition to selecting a new president during the weekend convention, delegates voted on proposed constitutional amendments, including several designed to prevent the kinds of scandals that have dogged the party in recent years.
During Mr. Brown’s time as leader, several nomination races were disputed – and six were later overturned by the party – amid allegations of electoral interference, including alleged ballot-box stuffing, ineligible voters and fake party memberships. Hamilton police are conducting a voter-fraud investigation into a PC Party nomination race that occurred in May, 2017.
A proposed amendment from Mr. Karahalios and others to ban cash membership sales, which are seen as facilitating fraudulent memberships, was passed. The measure will require memberships to be paid for by personal cheque or credit card. Both the provincial NDP and Liberals currently accept cash memberships. The NDP says it has a process in place to certify that the money is coming directly from a party member, and the Liberals say they are consulting with their members on ending cash payments.
Meanwhile, a proposal to remove gender identity from the sex education curriculum passed on the convention floor, meaning it will be debated and voted upon at the next policy convention. However, the non-binding proposal was previously rejected by the policy advisory committee, and a party spokesman said it was not party policy coming out of the convention. The proposal was made by former leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen, a social conservative who was removed by Mr. Ford as a candidate in the June election.