After nearly a year-long campaign, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party members go to the polls on Sunday for the first of two days of scheduled voting to elect a new leader.
Christine Elliott, 60, the MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and the party's deputy leader, is battling Patrick Brown, the 36-year-old upstart MP for Barrie.
More than 75,000 members are eligible to vote on Sunday or next Thursday. The result will be revealed next Saturday at an event at the Toronto Congress Centre.
Here's an inside look at the race – and what to expect.
What Christine Elliott thinks of Patrick Brown
Ms. Elliott thinks that Mr. Brown is a social conservative and says that group will take over the party if he becomes leader. "I think Patrick represents the constituency that I am concerned about, the social conservative group within the party would take over and I think that's not where people want us to go," she said in a debate this week on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. "Most people in Ontario are centre right but not that far right and I just don't think we will win if we go out with that kind of position in the next campaign." Instead, she characterizes herself as a Progressive Conservative who is "fiscally conservative" and "socially compassionate."
What Patrick Brown thinks of Christine Elliott
Mr. Brown says Ms. Elliott, an MPP since 2006 and the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, is "Liberal light" – and well ensconced in the party establishment. He says that "a lot of Conservatives across the province feel this massive push to the left." "Obviously this leadership is a choice between the Liberal light version of the party and those that believe we can win as Conservatives," he said during the debate. "I can bring a fresh start. The party establishment isn't supporting me and I don't owe them any favours." Ms. Elliott has the support of the majority of the 28 PC MPPs; Mr. Brown has the backing of five MPPs.
What they say about policy
Ms. Elliott has released her economic platform, calling for corporate taxes to be reduced to 10 per cent from 11.5 per cent over three years. Mr. Brown is being criticized by some party members and observers for not releasing any specific policy. He has mused about bringing a so-called red tape reduction secretariat to the province to cut regulations. But the two candidates agree that Liberal government policies, such as the partial sale of Hydro One, is wrong-headed. Both say they would have voted against the Wynne government's new sex education curriculum if they had the chance.
Both candidates say they have raised about $1-million. They are allowed to spend $1.2-million. They have to contribute 20 per cent of their donations to the party. Ms. Elliott's campaign manager, Ari Laskin, says the majority of her donations are $100 or less and coming from rural areas and smaller towns. Mr. Brown's campaign manager, Bob Stanley, believes that his campaign will end with a "bit of a debt." For example, he says the last few days before the voting are "very hectic" and "very expensive."
"There is a lot of mail going out," Mr. Stanley says, explaining that it costs about $1 for each piece of mail. Mr. Brown is sending personalized letters to members. "So, when you start adding those costs in, they are significant," he says.
Who will win – and why?
It all comes down now to getting out the vote – and whose team is the most effective at that. Both camps are saying their Get Out the Vote (GOTV) machine is primed. Mr. Brown has emerged as the front-runner, claiming 41,000 members. He says he has reached out to cultural communities, including the influential Indo-Canadian diaspora, for support. His challenge now is to get all of those supporters to cast ballots. Ms. Elliott's team, meanwhile, believes that although Mr. Brown has signed more members, his support is not distributed efficiently throughout the provincial ridings. The leadership contest is a weighted system. Each candidate wins a certain number points, out of 100, for the support he or she gains in each of the 107 ridings.
"I know that our grassroots supporters that we have identified across the province that are with us are going to show up to vote and I think it's going to be a great result on May 9," Ms. Elliott told reporters.
What Kathleen Wynne's Liberals think about Ms. Elliott and Mr. Brown
The Ontario Liberals put out Transportation Minister Steve Del Duca Friday to criticize the two PC candidates in advance of Sunday's vote. He spent nearly five minutes reading from a prepared text that tried to paint a scary picture of the pair. Ms. Elliott, he said, is "far more right-wing than she pretends to be …" He is basing this on the fact that her bid is supported by former Ontario premier Mike Harris and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. He described Mr. Brown an "unapologetic Tea Party radical" and said he makes former PC leader Tim Hudak and Rob Ford "look like they belong in the NDP."