Ontario's Progressive Conservatives will gather to welcome a new leader on Saturday after a breakneck campaign marred by ferocious skirmishing between the four candidates and glitches with the online voting process that kept thousands from casting their ballots.
A last-minute attempt to delay the leadership contest before party faithful meet in Markham, Ont., failed on Friday evening when a judge rejected a request to extend the voting period in the race for another week. The request for an injunction from a disenfranchised voter was only the latest twist in a rocky campaign that at 44 days was the shortest in Ontario's modern history.
"This case turns on the balance of convenience. The clear balance is in favour of the respondents," Superior Court Justice Todd Archibald wrote in his judgment upholding the party's running of the process. "One more week without a leader impacts every member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario."
While the applicant in the case wanted an additional week so that he could vote, Justice Archibald found in his decision that he would do more damage with a delay. "There is no way to achieve this result without prejudicing the other 60,000 members who have already voted and are expecting to have a new party leader in place as of [Saturday] night."
Lawyer Jeffrey Radnoff had earlier told a Toronto courtroom that the party needed to extend voting because a number of Tories couldn't vote due to issues with the party's process. Thousands of members told leadership candidates that they hadn't received letters in the mail with the personal identification numbers they needed to vote. Among them was Mr. Radnoff's client. "They are just regular members who paid their fees and want to be part of the democratic process," he said.
Mr. Radnoff, speaking to reporters after the decision was rendered, said that, despite losing the case, he agreed with the judge's reasoning. "My client had a lot of courage to raise what is a very important issue. He's disappointed he can't vote, but he feels he had his day in court," he said.
Former Toronto councillor Doug Ford and former Tory MPP Christine Elliott are the leading contenders to claim the party's leadership on Saturday. A number of polls have shown the two candidates neck and neck at the end of a campaign that saw ideological fault lines open up in Ontario's Official Opposition only months before a general election.
"This campaign is down to me or Christine," wrote Mr. Ford in an e-mail to supporters on Friday where he promised not to flip-flop on the stands he took during his campaign. "I'll fight Justin Trudeau's carbon tax all the way. I will save the taxpayer money. I'm going to balance the budget. This is what will happen if I win."
Joined by political newcomer Caroline Mulroney and party activist Tanya Granic Allen, the four candidates in the race put forward few firm policy proposals. However, Mr. Ford made an appeal to social conservatives late in the race by opening the door to legislation that would require parental consent when a minor requests an abortion.
Ms. Elliott, who received the largest number of endorsements from sitting MPPs, told her supporters after voting ended that it was time to work on defeating Premier Kathleen Wynne and a Liberal government that has been in power for nearly 15 years. "Hopefully tomorrow, we' ll all be celebrating together. It's time to unite our party and defeat Kathleen Wynne," she said.
According to the party, 64,053 of its nearly 190,000 members cast ballots in the race. The leadership vote cost the party about $1.5-million, according to Hartley Lefton, who chaired the committee that ran the process.
The PC Party was thrust into a leadership contest on Jan. 25 when Patrick Brown resigned a few hours after a hastily called press conference where he denied allegations of sexual misconduct from two women. The allegations, first aired by CTV News, dated from Mr. Brown's time as a federal member of Parliament, At the time, he said he was stepping aside to focus on clearing his name.
Further allegations emerged in the weeks after Mr. Brown's resignation, including ones involving his personal finances. Ontario's integrity commissioner is now investigating Mr. Brown after a complaint was made that the former leader's salary barely covered the mortgage for his $2.3-million home and the Barrie-area politician had not disclosed income from renting out his home to the watchdog.
Days after Mr. Brown stepped down, the party's interim leader announced that "rot" had been allowed to spread through the opposition during the two years Mr. Brown was at its helm.
Mr. Brown, 39, entered the race to succeed himself on Feb. 16, only hours before the party's registration deadline. He was kicked out of the party's caucus earlier in the day. Ten days later, citing the difficulty on his family and the distraction of his presence in the race, Mr. Brown withdrew from the campaign.
Among the candidates to succeed Mr. Brown, Ms. Elliott is the only veteran with experience at Queen's Park, where she served for nearly a decade. The 62-year-old politician, from just east of Toronto, made two previous runs for the party's leadership and lost.
Mr. Ford served one term on city council in Toronto and a number of polls showed him to be the most divisive candidate in the race.
Ms. Mulroney's candidacy was built on her promise that she would be a fresh voice in politics. The daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, she lacked any serious political experience before her bid for the leadership.
Ms. Granic Allen is a social-conservative activist who took a strong line in opposition to Ontario's current sex-education curriculum.