Caroline Mulroney Lapham doesn't use either of her last names to introduce herself to voters. She doesn't have to. "My name's Caroline," she says. Her campaign logo consists of her name, CAROLINE, in capital letters, and underneath, in much smaller type, "Let's get it done."
In a world where political candidates strive to brand themselves for voters, Caroline's famous name gives her a crucial edge. Her personal demographics don't hurt, either. She is a proud, hard-working Professional Mom, who has to make sure there's dinner on the table every night just like you do. (I imagine she has staff to help her with that, but never mind.) She's friendly, poised and attractive, but not stuck up. On the downside, she has never held elective office – a defect that her marketing team aims to turn into a positive. She isn't "green." She's "fresh."
Is Caroline qualified to be the premier of Canada's biggest province? Of course not. That doesn't mean you can count her out. "She presents a fresh start for both the party and the province," as one insider told me. All she has to do is navigate the demolition derby of current Ontario politics.
The gory details are familiar to us all. Fewer than three weeks ago, Patrick Brown, the Progressive Conservative leader, was forced to quit after allegations of sexual misconduct hit the media. The party decided it had neither the time nor the inclination to investigate them. He says he's been smeared, and says he can prove that important details in the allegations against him are false. But it's too late. In the #MeToo era, he's about as welcome as a skunk at a picnic.
Mr. Brown's demise gave Caroline her opening. Who can blame her for seizing it? Even if she loses the leadership contest, she'll have established herself as a player. If her party wins, she'll certainly get a cabinet seat.
As inconvenient as it was, the loss of Mr. Brown may not be such a big disaster for the party. He wasn't an attractive leader. Voters had only a dim idea of who he was. He owed his popularity to the fact that they are fed up with the Liberals. The best thing to be said about him is that he wasn't quite as bad as the last Tory leader. He won his job by selling boatloads of party memberships (some of which, it seems, may not have been legitimate). He was too lean and feral for my taste. He sincerely believed in nothing that I could detect, except himself.
By this time next month, the Tories could well wind up with a leader who's a more attractive figure than Mr. Brown was. But the real question will be: Can that person beat Kathleen Wynne?
Ms. Wynne is a formidable campaigner. She has a way of rising from the near-dead. Her pre-election campaign has been strong. Beating her will take someone with toughness and tenacity. Nothing in Ms. Mulroney's character or background indicates that she has the goods. Perhaps Doug Ford could do it. Doug is Rob's older and less wacky brother. He has a devoted fan base, but he's too conservative for most Ontario voters. Despite the Mike Harris years, Ontario is a firmly centrist province. Doug would have to move to the centre, fast.
That leaves Christine Elliott, the other Conservative candidate. Her message is that she's ready and Caroline is not. But the public scarcely knows who she is either. Her political experience might be a plus – or it might incline the voters to regard her as a retread. She's already lost the leadership race twice.
It's hard not to be just a wee bit cynical about Caroline, of course. Like Justin Trudeau, she is a dynastic candidate, but with far less political experience than he had when he ran for leader. She seems to be a hard worker and a lovely person, with a close-knit family, a supportive spouse, photogenic kids, and a degree from Harvard. But so far she has expressed no vision for Ontario, and her policy positions (more resources for mental health, etc.) are mainly platitudes. Maybe some sort of vision will come to her in the next couple of weeks.
As for her business experience, it's somewhat overblown. Her résumé is not particularly substantial, perhaps because she's juggled jobs and kids. At any rate, business success is a poor predictor of political success, as many would-be stars have discovered to their sorrow. Her main exposure to public service has been as a director of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a post to which she was appointed by Conservative cabinet minister and long-time friend Lisa Raitt.
Yet Ms. Mulroney's main drawback may not be that she's too green. I suspect it is that she's too nice. Platitudes and a fresh face can take you a reasonably long way in politics. But it will take a knock-down, drag-out fighter to beat Ms. Wynne.