TORONTO—Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives continued to grapple with a sexual misconduct scandal Jan. 29 as party brass began to lay out the groundwork for a leadership contest to be held just months before the June provincial election.
In the span of five days, the party saw both its leader, Patrick Brown, and president, Rick Dykstra, step down amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Brown’s resignations on Wednesday left the party, which had been leading in the polls, scrambling to find a new leader in time for the election.
A decision by caucus to have interim leader Vic Fedeli take the Tories through the spring vote was later overturned by the party’s executive, which voted in favour of a leadership race.
Fedeli, a former finance critic, was the only candidate to officially enter the race until Monday afternoon, when a controversial political figure threw his hat in the ring.
Doug Ford, former Toronto city councillor and brother to the city’s late former mayor Rob Ford, announced he was entering the race to save the party from what he called political “elites.”
“The elites of this party, the ones who shut out the grassroots, do not want me in this race,” he told reporters at his family’s home in west Toronto. “I’m here to give a voice … to the hardworking taxpayers of this province, people who have been ignored for far too long.”
A party committee is hammering down the rules and the date of a leadership contest to later be approved by the party executive.
“We’re looking forward to coming back to them with those rules that will set out what a leadership process could look like to allow us to elect a new leader that the party would be proud to take to Ontarians,” said committee chairman Hartley Lefton.
Lefton said the Tories will stick to the one-member one-vote rule, which would open the voting up to the party’s 200,000 members. It’s not yet clear when the convention will be held, but a permanent party leader will be in place by the end of March, Lefton said.
“The (party) executive set an outside date of March 24 but realistically it could be any time between now and then,” he said.
Former Postmedia executive Rod Phillips, a Progressive Conservative candidate in the riding of Ajax., Ont., who is considering entering the race, said it is important that all party members have a say in who leads them in the next election.
Phillips and Caroline Mulroney, another potential leadership candidate, had opposed the caucus proposal to have Fedeli become permanent leader.
“To present a strong, unified, Ontario PC party that can win against (Premier) Kathleen Wynne, the leader who takes us through the election must have a clear mandate from all members of the Ontario PC Party,” he said in a statement on Friday. “Our party is made up of some 200,000 members across our province. This isn’t without its challenges, given the timelines, but it is the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, the party appointed a new president on Monday to replace Dykstra, who resigned on the weekend, just hours after Maclean’s magazine published a report in which a woman alleged she was a young Conservative staffer in Ottawa when she was sexually assaulted by Dykstra in 2014, when he was an MP. The allegations have not been verified by The Canadian Press and Dykstra has not responded to requests for comment.
Fedeli said he was shocked and disgusted by the allegations and said he’d take steps to ensure the workplace is safe for party members and staffers.
Maclean’s said the staffer reported the incident to Ottawa police in 2014, alleging Dykstra sexually assaulted her after a party. The magazine reported that senior Conservative campaign operatives were aware of the allegations and decided to allow him to run in the 2015 election anyway.
The woman, who was not named, told the magazine she was in Dykstra’s apartment when he allegedly cornered her in his bedroom and “forced” her to perform oral sex on him. She told the magazine she fled the apartment when Dykstra left the room.
Maclean’s said the woman gave police a statement but ultimately decided not to proceed with the case. Ottawa police said Monday that they could not confirm details of the case as no charges were laid.
Dykstra went on to lose his St. Catharines, Ont., riding, and became president of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives. Long-time activist Jag Badwal has replaced him.