Christine Elliott is looking for a boost from Ford Nation in her bid for the Ontario PC leadership, gaining the endorsement of Toronto's controversial former mayor just two weeks before voting begins.
The MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, locked in a two-way race with Barrie MP Patrick Brown, welcomed Rob Ford into her "big blue tent" Sunday, saying she is looking for support from all parts of the party to build a coalition to face the Liberals in 2018.
"I'm happy to get support whenever and wherever I can get it," said Ms. Elliott, standing on a windswept corner in North Etobicoke flanked by the former mayor and his brother, Doug Ford. "We are all proud Progressive Conservatives and we are building that coalition."
Mr. Ford, who is undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer, is a divisive figure among voters, but has retained a loyal block of supporters – even in the wake of admitting he had smoked crack cocaine after months of denial.
Ms. Elliott, the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty and a long-time friend of the Ford family, said she is "absolutely delighted and honoured," to have the endorsement of both Ford brothers.
Ms. Elliott is the favourite of the party establishment, but is facing a strong challenge from Mr. Brown, who entered the race last fall as an outsider. The federal backbencher gained fresh momentum earlier this month after MPP Monte McNaughton dropped out of the leadership race and and encouraged his supporters to join him in backing Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown also has strong membership sales and some high-profile endorsements from Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey, former Canadian ambassador to the United States Derek Burney and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. He is the co-chair of the Canada-India Interparliamentary Friendship Group and was front and centre during last week's visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who calls him "brother."
The former mayor, now a Toronto councillor, had endorsed Mr. McNaughton, but said Sunday he is backing Ms. Elliott because of her experience in provincial politics and because, unlike Mr. Brown, she already holds a seat at Queen's Park.
"The person that's going to win the election, I can see now, clearly, it's going to be Christine," said Mr. Ford.
If Mr. Brown wins the leadership, Mr. Ford said, the PC Party will have to spend time on a by-election, rather than focusing on the next general election.
Two other PC MPPs, Lisa MacLeod and Vic Fedeli, dropped out of the race earlier and are supporting Ms. Elliott.
Doug Ford, who stepped into the race for Toronto mayor after his brother was diagnosed with cancer, declared his support for Ms. Elliott last fall at the same time he announced he would not be joining the leadership race.
After Sunday's endorsement, Ms. Elliott and Rob Ford spent about an hour knocking on doors of PC party members in a suburban neighbourhood in the city's northwest corner.
Mr. Ford has completed radiation and chemotherapy and is scheduled to undergo surgery May 11. On Sunday, he led canvassers to the homes of potential supporters and did most of the talking when he and Ms. Elliott went to the door.
"We do whatever we can to get to the voters," he advised volunteers, adding later, "I've got this down to a science."
PC members vote May 3 and 7 for the leadership. The results will be announced on May 9.