The Ontario Progressive Conservatives Leadership election

I don’t normally focus on provincial politics in , but I’m following with interest the leadership election for the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, as a mate of mine is a contender.

Unlike in NZ, Canadian parties are not restricted to choosing their leaders from their caucus, and have lengthy election contests where every member can vote. It is not uncommon for a leader to not be an MP when they get elected.

The Leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario resigned in June 2014, after losing the provincial election. They got only 28 seats to 58 for the Liberals and 21 for the NDP. They lost nine seats despite being their third term in opposition.

The election will be on 9 May 2015 – almost 11 months later.

Every member of the party in Ontario gets a vote. The votes are weighted so each of the 107 ridings has equal weight. So signing up 5,000 members in one riding won’t help you much – you need to work on getting votes from the entire province.

The front-runner for the leadership has been Christine Elliott. She has been deputy leader since 2009 and has support of 19 of the 28 provincial MPs.

A total of five candidates went forward. Elliott, Vic Fedeli (shadow finance), Lisa MacLeod (shadow treasury), Monte McNaughton (shadow trade) and .

Patrick is not a provincial MP, but a federal backbench MP. I’ve known him for over a dozen years, after we went to Sri Lanka together to do democracy training. We’re good mates, despite him nicknaming me Uncle Fester. I happened to be in Canada when their 2006 election was on, so helped him out a bit. He won his federal seat that year, off an incumbent Cabinet Minister.

He won the marginal seats by 1,500 votes in 2006. Then after two years increased it to 15,000 in 2008 and 21,000 in 2011.

Patrick is one of the most impressive retail politicians I’ve seen. He gets involved in every community event there is. He leads and champions fundraisers for local causes. He turns up to almost every meeting and forum. That’s how a seat goes from marginal to getting three times the votes of your opponent.

When I was there in 2006, Patrick was door knocking in -30 degree temperatures and snow every day. Volunteers who were only door knocking once or twice a week were wanting to stop after a couple of hours, but Patrick would always be the one saying let’s do one more block – despite being out every day.

When Patrick first announced his candidacy, he was seen as having no chance. He wasn’t even a provincial MP. He scored barely 5% in the opinion polls.

But Patrick got to work. He and his team started signing up members. Not 500 or 1,000, but around 30,000. He didn’t just sign them up in the areas that normally vote PC. He went to areas often hostile in the past. He worked with ethnic communities, and has been so good at pushing Canadian-Indian links, he’s a personal friend now of the Indian Prime Minister.

He couldn’t get as many endorsements from MPPs as Elliott, but he got endorsements from legendary ice hockey players. Brown organises an annual ice hockey charity event for his local area, and gets many stars along – and even takes part himself.

It’s now two weeks to go, and a poll has him now in the lead. Ahead 54 to 46. No guarantee he will win, but an amazing turn-around. If he wins, polls show they are slightly ahead of the Liberals, so he could become Premier at the next election. But one step at a time.

The lesson here, if Patrick does win, is sheer hard work and endless energy can make a difference.

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