For a good number of Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the idea of going into this spring's election with Doug Ford at the helm is almost as much of a nightmare as what they have endured the past week.
Less charming than his late brother Rob, the onetime Toronto city councillor is not exactly the fresh face of a modern party the Tories are looking to project. Many Torontonians look back on the Fords' era at City Hall with relief that it's over, while those outside the city probably have trouble believing it ever happened.
If Mr. Ford wound up premier, even the most ambitious of PC MPPs might not be able to tolerate his domineering style for long. But just by becoming the first outside candidate to announce his bid to replace Patrick Brown, Mr. Ford may have done the Tories a favour. That is, if it snaps them out of the bizarre, self-destructive state they have been in since sexual-misconduct allegations forced Mr. Brown's sudden departure last week, and if it gets them focused on the task at hand.
It has been four days since the party's executive decided to hold a general-membership vote to select a replacement for Mr. Brown in time for the coming provincial campaign. That's not long normally, but it is when the leadership contest needs to be staged in record time.
And it really feels like a long time when the party is producing an endless amount of drama – mass firings, wild accusations flying around, score settling – as ambitious politicians and political consultants attempt peculiar power plays.
Much of this dysfunction can be traced back to a baffling decision made by the party executive last Thursday – the day between Mr. Brown's resignation and the PC caucus's vote to select an interim replacement.
Its choice was to either allow the interim leader to helm the party through the June 7 election, or opt for the general-membership vote. Overwhelmed, the executive put off the decision until just after the caucus vote – at which point it dashed the hopes of its winner, veteran MPP Vic Fedeli, that the support of other MPPs was enough to give him his shot at being premier. On the bright side, for Mr. Fedeli, he would be allowed to continue serving as interim leader while campaigning for the job full-time – a conflict of interest parties usually avoid, but that the executive forgot to rule out.
More than give Mr. Fedeli an unfair advantage over other leadership competitors, this sequence of events seems to have encouraged him and his supporters to relitigate the decision to let party members have a vote.
In recent days, there has been unending chatter about the executive reconsidering its decision and letting Mr. Fedeli stay through June after all. Some of it is coming from caucus members who felt disrespected by their choice not standing for long, after they were led to believe it might. Much of it is coming from Richard Ciano, a political consultant (partnered with the better-known Nick Kouvalis) who as a former party president has continued to sit on the executive and who has been arguing the party's organizational state is too dire for a proper leadership vote in a couple of months.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fedeli seems to be seizing simultaneous opportunities to assert himself as leader and prove Mr. Ciano's point about the level of dysfunction – including laying off party staff and pouncing on complaints about the use of party funds under Mr. Brown's watch, as other embarrassing stories, such as a hack of the party's database, find their way into the media.
Amid the bloodletting during this early stage of Mr. Fedeli's reign, one exit – that of erstwhile party president Rick Dykstra, as a sexual-assault allegation from his time as a federal MP surfaced – was necessary and inevitable.
But much of the rest seems to be an unnecessary distraction at best. Mr. Brown's prolific fundraising, for instance, left the Tories as the only provincial party that has more than enough money to fight the coming campaign; is it really the time to be launching investigations into how every dollar was spent under his watch?
Amid the chaos, Mr. Ford – who launched his campaign making generic complaints about "elites" – admittedly does not immediately leap out as a unifying figure.
But his entry does make the leadership contest more real. The prospect of turning away the sorts of anti-establishment party members inclined to support him underscores the absurdity of the push to cancel the planned general-membership vote – and all the squabbling it seems to be causing – at a time when the party really can't afford to further alienate its grassroots.
Of course, it could also lead to Mr. Ford actually winding up as leader. But that's the risk of the type of race to which the Tories have already committed. They might as well get on with it, rather than further tattering their banner for the person who ends up carrying it.