John Tory says he will stay on as Leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party even though he failed to win a decisive vote of confidence from delegates.
Mr. Tory initially said Saturday evening that he needed time to ponder his future after he won the support of two thirds of the delegates at the party's annual convention in London, Ont. But, three hours later, he announced that he had made the decision to stay after consulting with his family and party members.
"More than two-thirds of those [delegates]said they did not want to have a leadership convention at this moment," Mr. Tory told the crowd.
"I asked people to vote no today because I felt, and I still feel, that a leadership race will take us away from the vital jobs that we have to do. … So we won't have a leadership convention. Instead what we're going to do is we're going to get going on grassroots policy."
Of the 1,308 delegates who cast ballots, 66.9 per cent supported Mr. Tory, just shy of the 70 per cent threshold many party insiders said he needed to put to rest any questions about his leadership. The vote also fell short of Mr. Tory's own expectations, sources said.
The late night decision put an end to criticism that Mr. Tory was leaving the party in limbo by not saying whether he was staying or going.
Rueben Devlin, a former party president and head of a campaign that sought to oust Mr. Tory, told reporters earlier this evening that he should have resigned immediately.
"What this party needs is strong leadership," he said.
New Democrat MPP Peter Kormos also told reporters that party members had expected Mr. Tory to state a clear position.
"Once again, they're left hanging," he said. "Mr. Tory has got to decide very, very quickly," he added. "Otherwise, he risks squandering the support he does have."
The vote is a major disappointment for Mr. Tory, 53. He has fought hard to get a second chance to lead the party following its bitter loss in last October's provincial election.
John Capobianco, head of Mr. Tory's campaign, acknowledged that Mr. Tory was surprised with the outcome. But he said the result is a strong enough endorsement for him to remain in the job.
"Having 66 per cent in a contest that was this divisive is very positive," he said.
Just before the results were announced, Mr. Tory huddled behind closed doors with family members and Bill Davis, a former premier of Ontario and his mentor. Mr. Tory was Mr. Davis's principal secretary back in the 1980s.
Before the voting got under way, Mr. Tory made a last-ditch appeal for support from delegates. He stressed in a speech that he has emerged wiser and stronger after spending the past four months taking stock.
He also urged delegates to put the election behind them, arguing that the party will have a much better chance of winning in 2011 with him as leader.
But he also acknowledged that this is not where the party was supposed to end up - deeply divided with many disgruntled members questioning his future as leader.
"I let our caucus and party down and most of all, I let the people of Ontario down," he said in the speech. "For that, I am sorry. But more than that, you have my solemn promise that it won't happen again."
Mr. Tory also tacitly admitted that he steered the party too far to the left, alienating many traditional supporters in the process, and not doing enough to differentiate the Progressive Conservatives from the governing Liberals.
'We'll have a platform which provides a clear, concise conservative alternative to the Liberals, not an echo," he said.
But he also said he does not intend to ignore society's most vulnerable citizens.
"Conservatism and compassion are not mutually exclusive," he said. "In fact, they go hand in hand."
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was rumoured to have voted in favour of a leadership review. He was a cabinet minister under the former Progressive Conservative government in Ontario before he made the jump to federal politics. He also twice ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the provincial Tories.
Mr. Flaherty was coy today when asked whether he supports Mr. Tory. "I don't talk about how anyone votes, including me," he said.
But Mr. Tory had strong support from many current and former caucus members in Ontario, including former premier Ernie Eves.
"I think John deserves another shot at it," Mr. Eves told reporters. He inherited a majority government, but the party was badly defeated under his leadership in the 2003 election.
"There will always be people in a party who are not happy with the leader. I know that all too well," Mr. Eves chuckled. "Some of us learn that the hard way."
While many of the current 26 Conservative caucus members have been happy to say they were solidly behind Mr. Tory, at least one, MPP Randy Hillier, demurred when asked how he had voted.
"It's not for caucus members to determine the outcome," Mr. Hillier told The Globe and Mail. "We ought not to be influencing the vote."
Mr. Tory has faced questions about his leadership from members of a campaign headed by Rueben Devlin, a former party president. The tension between Mr. Tory's supporters and detractors spilled onto the convention floor today, resulting in fisticuffs.
As Roland Willis, a member of Mr. Devlin's campaign, told reporters that Mr. Tory made a bad decision on the faith based schools policy, a group of the leader's supporters began shouting, "Tory, Tory, Tory."
This prompted an elderly woman who is part of the Devlin camp to rise out of her seat and shout, "Shut up." She then punched the young man, Jeff Lindquist, in the chest.
Mr. Tory, meanwhile, spent his time at the convention trying to bring the two camps together and reach out to his detractors. One of his staff members confirmed that Mr. Tory dropped in on a party last night held by members of the group seeking to oust him. The party was hosted by Effie Triantafilopoulos, the burned candidate in the riding of Mississauga South who had to step aside for Tim Peterson after he crossed the floor from the Liberals to the Tories.
The evening ended with a large group photo taken with Ms. Triantafilopoulos and Mr. Tory right in the middle smiling, a source said.
With files from The Canadian Press