Connecting The PC Leadership Race To Southwestern Ontario

The race to lead the Ontario Progressive Conservatives is already nearing the finish line ahead of Thursday night’s opening debate.

Christine Elliott, Doug Ford, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen will square-off for two scheduled debates before a leader is announced on March 10, which makes the race as one of the shortest in Canadian history.

Three of the candidates have ties to southwestern Ontario.

Mulroney has received support from Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton, and Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek. Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls is still undecided.

Elliott is pushing for a third debate in the region (and a fourth in Northern Ontario) and says “we must not forget that the future success and economic prosperity of all parts of the province will be equally critical to our success as a government.”

Ford is promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to the region, also known as the “Rust Belt” of the province.

Matt Farrell, a political science professor at Laurier University and Fanshawe College, says Ford’s promise is one he might not be able to keep.

“For one candidate to say that they’re going to bring back those jobs is a nice message and it’s an easy one to digest,” he says. “But the actual factors that will and can bring jobs back are well beyond the control of a single politician or a single government.”

Farrell believes Elliott might have a slight advantage in the race with her connections and previous experience. However, he says don’t be so quick to count out Ford.

“When you’re looking at a type of election that’s restricted to such a small membership group, somebody like a Doug Ford is going to be pretty powerful,” says Farrell. “I would say [Ford and Elliott] have the two best shots right now. One from just connections and name recognition, then you got Ford with just such a tremendous draw power.”

Elliott currently has the most caucus support with nine MPPs from the province backing her in the race.

The vote to choose a new party leader will take place from March 2 to 8. The provincial election is set for June 7.