On the eve of a crucial vote on John Tory's future as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, he has become embroiled in controversy over whether party resources were used to influence delegates.
Delegates will vote today at the party's annual convention in London on whether Mr. Tory should stay on as leader. Party officials said privately that he needs to garner at least 70 per cent of the votes to put to rest any questions about his leadership.
Mr. Tory would only say yesterday that he is "hopeful" he will get enough support from the 1,200 delegates who were expected to register. He has spent the past four months since the party's bitter election loss last October visiting party members in several ridings. But this weekend will be the first time since the election that he is facing so many members at one time.
Mr. Tory told reporters he is anxious to begin focusing on the failings of Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government and leave behind the fighting within his own party.
"As a party, we're here to fight Liberals and to bruise Liberals and to defeat Liberals, not to fight with each other," the PC Leader said.
But the infighting continued yesterday amid revelations that two of Mr. Tory's caucus members sent letters on party letterhead seeking support for him. The letters signed by Tory MPPs Bob Runciman and Toby Barrett were a clear violation of the rules of the party, which is supposed to be neutral.
Mr. Tory said the letters were sent inadvertently, and he had nothing to do with them. He said his supporters will pick up the tab for mailing the letters. "It was just something that happened that shouldn't have," he said.
Rueben Devlin, a former president of the PC Party and head of a group seeking to replace Mr. Tory, was not prepared to let him off the hook.
"He is the leader," Mr. Devlin told reporters. "Is he responsible? I don't know. Is he accountable? Absolutely."
Judy Mintz, a long-time volunteer for the party, said she and her daughter, Sara, a delegate, received the letters this week. "Why am I going out and working my buns off to raise money for the party when this is how it's being spent?" she said.
Party president Blair McCreadie told reporters he did not see the letters before they were mailed. But because the individuals involved have offered to reimburse the party, he said, "I consider the matter closed."
Mr. Devlin said the letters on party letterhead are just the latest examples of how difficult Mr. Tory's supporters or the party itself have made it for his group. The party was slow to post information about delegate-selection meetings on its website. A supporter of Mr. Tory's launched a series of last-minute challenges of delegates on the grounds that they are representing ridings where they neither live nor work.
"We think that the playing field could have been a little bit more level for everyone," Mr. Devlin said.
The Together With Tory campaign fired back yesterday, lashing out against Mr. Devlin's "increasingly vitriolic attacks" on their leader and the party. "Devlin is apparently hoping he can blame his way to a leadership race," the campaign said in a news release.