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Globe editorial: Can the Ontario PCs break their election curse?

Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, another Ontario squad that wears blue and white, will be familiar with the ulcerous feeling that afflicts supporters of the province's Progressive Conservative Party before elections.

That is to say, the nagging dread that no matter how well things seem to be going in the regular season, the team will find a way to blow it in the playoffs.

Can you blame them? For going on a decade now, the PC Party, thanks to its leaders' late-season gaffes, has made an art form of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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In 2007, there was John Tory's flaky pledge to fund all religious schools. In 2011, Tim Hudak mysteriously wilted in the home stretch.

Three years later, Mr. Hudak scored an own goal by vowing to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, and the Liberals won their fourth straight election.

It's a record of electoral failure that would give any party the yips. But even the most Eeyorish PC partisan, conditioned by a decade of disaster, must still be stunned by the meltdown that has befallen the party in the last 10 days.

Consider the following sequence of events:

Patrick Brown, his party ahead in the polls, resigns as PC leader in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct, including a claim that he asked a high-school student to give him oral sex while he was a federal Conservative MP.

His resignation only comes after a defiant press conference, a mass exodus by his top staff, and a sequence of late-night conference calls in which his caucus warns him that, if he does not jump, he will be pushed.

Then it really starts getting ugly.

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First, the PC caucus lets it be known that it would like interim leader Vic Fedeli to lead the party into the June election, to which Mr. Fedeli says "hear hear."

Then the party executive, led by president and Patrick Brown pal Rick Dykstra, decides on an open leadership race instead. This leads to much mutinous chatter.

Before a revolt can erupt, Mr. Dykstra steps down in the wake of a report that he allegedly sexually assaulted a staffer while serving as a Conservative MP.

Within days, Mr. Fedeli says he won't run for leader after all – in order to "root out the rot" in the party, including credible reports of fraudulent memberships.

"We have learned our party is in much worse shape than we knew," he says.

But that's not even the worst of it. Doug Ford, an opportunistic populist who craves attention and is infamous for playing fast and loose with the truth, announces he will seek the leadership. Doug Ford, the less charming older brother of the bigoted, deceitful Rob Ford. That Doug Ford.

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It's true that the end of this week brought the PC Party some respite. It settled on rules for its leadership contest, which will be decided by March 10, leaving enough time for the winner to gird for battle against Premier Kathleen Wynne in an election expected in June.

And two credible candidates are in the race: Christine Elliott, a respected former MPP and runner-up in two previous PC leadership contests; and Caroline Mulroney, an experienced lawyer and investment banker and daughter of former prime minister Brian.

In one poll taken since all the upheaval began, the PCs still have a 15-point lead over the Liberals.

But there are daunting problems ahead. Questions about the party's membership list have to be answered. And there is an ongoing police investigation into alleged ballot stuffing at a PC nomination meeting in Hamilton.

Plus, the leadership race will be divisive, thanks to Mr. Ford. He will style himself as the people's choice, a right-wing everyman fighting against party elites and the wealthy scion of a political dynasty – even though he himself is exactly that. There is no reason to believe Mr. Ford will conduct himself with dignity and civility in the month ahead, or put his party's interests first.

Which means it's likely that one candidate will win an ugly contest that will divide the base, and then be subjected to attack lines that the Liberals can A/B test for effectiveness in the election campaign.

But maybe we are too jaded. Maybe the PCs will get their act together, run a flawless campaign fronted by a strong leader, and cruise to victory.

And maybe this year, the Leafs will finally win the Cup.

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