Former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford is ditching his bid to become his city's mayor to run for leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, which he said has fallen into "complete disarray" at the hands of "elites."
With the party splintering amid the fallout of sexual misconduct allegations that have claimed its leader, Patrick Brown, and the party's president, Rick Dykstra, Mr. Ford ended widespread speculation about his plans on Monday and addressed reporters and TV cameras from a podium in the basement of his mother's Etobicoke home, where his family hosts its annual Ford Fest backyard barbecues for supporters.
His entry into the race – where he could face off against interim leader Vic Fedeli and perhaps rumoured star candidates Caroline Mulroney and Rod Phillips – will see him try to expand his Toronto-area populist support, which Mr. Ford calls "Ford Nation," into a province-wide insurgency against the party's establishment.
"I am deeply troubled by what I have seen recently unfolding within the PC Party. Lifelong supporters of our party have been watching in horror as it falls into complete disarray," Mr. Ford told reporters, flanked by family members and his nephew, Toronto Councillor Michael Ford.
"We have seen backroom politics at its worst – insiders trying to politically capitalize at the expense of the people, elites who are disconnected from the grassroots of the party and don't care about the average struggles of Ontarians."
Mr. Ford said he was ready to "clean up the mess" and lead the party into the June provincial election, while giving up his goal of becoming Toronto's mayor later this year. He said the party needed a "tested" leader but that its elites did not want him in the race.
"I love Toronto and I love serving the residents of this great city," Mr. Ford said. "And as premier, I will serve them and every Ontario resident. I had every intention of running for mayor of this great city but I can't watch the party I love fall into the hands of the elites."
Mr. Ford, whose father, Doug Ford Sr., was a one-term PC backbencher in the 1990s under premier Mike Harris and founded the family's label-printing business, declined to answer questions from reporters assembled for his announcement.
He did not elaborate on his remarks about the PC Party being taken over by elites – nor did he directly address the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been levelled against Mr. Brown or Mr. Dykstra.
Mr. Ford, the brother of the controversial former mayor of Toronto, the late Rob Ford, stood in for his brother after Rob was diagnosed with cancer during the 2014 municipal campaign. He lost to former Rogers Cable executive and onetime Ontario PC leader John Tory in a vote that capped the chaos of the Ford mayoralty, when Rob made global headlines for his crack use and erratic behaviour, with his brother as his key defender.
For most of last year, Doug Ford said he strongly supported Mr. Brown and was trying to decide whether to run for a seat at Queen's Park under Mr. Brown's leadership or launch a rematch against Mr. Tory.
In September, at his Ford Fest barbecue, he launched his bid for mayor, despite the fact the official election period for the Oct. 22 municipal vote does not start until May 1.
If he were to lose in his bid for the PC leadership, which is currently set to go to a membership vote before the end of March, there is nothing, on paper at least, stopping Mr. Ford from re-entering the race for mayor.
Speculation has also swirled around Mr. Tory, who has acknowledged that he has been approached by unnamed Conservatives to run since the party was consumed by turmoil. But on Monday morning, at an event at an east-end bakery, Mr. Tory appeared to put an end to any notion he was mulling a run at Queen's Park.
"I have a job that I love. I have a job that I am looking forward to continuing in," Mr. Tory told reporters when asked about his intentions. "My plans are exactly as they were stated previously, which is to seek re-election to this office in October of this year. And that's my plan, and I am sticking to it."
Asked later about his reaction to Mr. Ford's announcement, Mr. Tory's spokesman, Don Peat, repeated comments the mayor made on the weekend: "As the mayor said on Sunday, he has trouble keeping up with Mr. Ford's ambitions."
Toronto Councillor John Filion, who interviewed Doug Ford for hours for his 2015 book, The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford, said comments on Twitter and elsewhere ridiculing Doug Ford for launching his leadership bid in his mother's basement only help him with his devoted following.
He warned that no one should underestimate Mr. Ford: "The more the party establishment and the elites try to block him, or mock him, the more that will drive a large segment of the population toward him."
John Capobianco, a long-time Conservative strategist who once backed Rob Ford for mayor but switched to John Tory's camp, says he has not decided who to support in the provincial leadership race.
But he says members he talks to are looking for steady-as-she-goes leadership as the party tries to put the scandals behind it before the June vote.
"I think they want to pick a leader who they feel is going to be a steady hand at the tiller," Mr. Capobianco said.
The announcement leaves Mr. Tory virtually unopposed in his bid for re-election by any serious candidate.
Within hours of Mr. Ford's announcement, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti – an outspoken Ford supporter – said on Twitter that he was "getting numerous calls and e-mails" and would consider his options between now and May. (He ran for mayor in 2010 but dropped off the ballot after getting little traction.)
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, one of Mr. Tory's deputy mayors and a lifelong Conservative who just won the party's nomination as its candidate in a Toronto riding, would not comment on Mr. Ford's announcement. He broke with the Fords during Rob's scandal-ridden term. He said he did not have a favoured candidate for leader yet.
"The party's in great shape, all things being equal. … It's not bad having $16-million in the bank, 200,000 members and a platform that I think is really worthwhile," Mr. Minnan-Wong said. "Notwithstanding everything that's happened, people still want Kathleen Wynne to go."