Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are facing a bitter battle for party president as members head into a convention where they will also vote on measures to clean up nomination races and membership sales.
Premier Doug Ford and several members of his caucus have publicly endorsed party stalwart Brian Patterson, who is one of two candidates vying for the position of president. He is running with a slate of contenders for other executive positions.
“People like Brian Patterson and his team have been dedicated to our Party and our conservative roots for many years. Together, we will make sure the Ontario PC Party is strong and united,” Mr. Ford said in a statement on Mr. Patterson’s social-media accounts.
The Ontario PC Party’s general meeting comes 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.
Rival candidate Jim Karahalios, a grassroots activist who is seen as the underdog, has focused his campaign on the importance of adhering to the party’s constitution and rebuilding its integrity and accountability.
Mr. Karahalios was an outspoken critic of Mr. Brown’s leadership and led dissident movements within the party. Under Mr. Brown, the party launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against him, alleging he misused its membership list to criticize the leader and his policies, and it also revoked his membership. After Mr. Brown’s resignation, interim leader Vic Fedeli publicly apologized to Mr. Karahalios.
Mr. Karahalios, whose wife, Belinda Karahalios, is a PC MPP and parliamentary assistant, has criticized Mr. Patterson’s slate for including several lobbyists, whom he says would face conflicts of interest. He also noted Mr. Patterson is running alongside individuals who served on the executive under Mr. Brown and have not cleared the air about their roles in controversial decisions made during that era.
In an e-mail sent to his network of members last week, Mr. Karahalios accused a fellow party activist of blackmailing him to benefit Mr. Patterson in a dust-up over the disclosure of private e-mails. Mr. Karahalios said he now considers the matter resolved.
“This one is straight-up more bitter than anything in the past, and more personal and public,” said John Mykytyshyn, a veteran Conservative strategist who is a friend of Mr. Patterson.
For his part, Mr. Patterson is campaigning on a “positive, pro-active and teamwork-focused approach” to rebuilding the party, according to a recent e-mail to members. Mr. Patterson, who did not respond to interview requests, was a chief of staff in the governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, a top adviser to former leaders John Tory and Tim Hudak, and previously sat on the party executive.
The winner 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 will vote 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.
Among the list of proposed constitutional amendments are measures to ensure candidates are elected through “open, public and democratic” nomination votes and to notify eligible members of voting dates at least 45 days ahead of time.
In addition, a proposed amendment seeks to ban cash membership sales, which are seen as facilitating fraudulent memberships. The measure would require memberships to be paid for by personal cheque or credit card.
“A cash membership allows for the greatest amount of abuse possible and getting rid of it would be one of the best things to happen,” Mr. Mykytyshyn said.