TORONTO—Caroline Mulroney, the Toronto lawyer and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, is running to become the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party.
Mulroney confirmed the news, which has been rumoured for over a week, in a series of interviews Feb. 4 at a hockey arena in north Toronto. She took questions from reporters between watching her two boys play on their Triple A teams.
The 43-year-old mother of four said despite the recent turmoil within the party after the sudden resignation of former leader Patrick Brown, the Tories can come together and win the June 7 provincial election.
“After 15 years of Liberal government we need a fresh change,” she said. “People are tired. They want a new government. They want something new. So, I decided to put my name forward.”
Mulroney believes she’s the candidate to unite the disparate wings of the PC family, despite never having held elected office.
“I am committed to making sure that we deliver this change,” she said. “People deserve a government that cares about them. As I’ve been knocking on doors, I know that I can be that leader and provide that leadership to the party.”
After taking a quick break between interviews to snack on french fries her husband Andrew Lapham brings by, Mulroney gets down to business, addressing the criticisms which have already been levelled at her.
“That means they’re nervous,” she said of her competitors in the race. “I can’t control what other campaigns do. All I can do is make sure I can run a campaign that’s true to the kind of person that I am.”
Mulroney has already been criticized for spending part of her life outside of Canada—she attended Harvard and New York University—but she says the attacks don’t hold up.
“That’s just a misstatement of fact,” she said. “I’ve lived the majority of my life in Canada and Ontario.”
Just hours after confirming she was in the race, Mulroney received a key endorsement from another rumoured candidate. Former Postmedia executive Rod Phillips said he will not seek the leadership and will throw is support behind Mulroney.
“Caroline and I, like many of our Party’s candidates across Ontario, represent a new generation of inclusive and accountable leadership for the Progressive Conservative Party,” Phillips, who’s also the PC candidate for Ajax, said in a statement. “Caroline will unite our party and lead us to victory in June, and I look forward to working closely with her to achieve that.”
Mulroney also weighed-in on some of the most difficult issues facing the Tories as they try to re-group following Brown’s resignation. She intends to consult party members about the PC platform—the so-called People’s Guarantee—but says it’s too early to say if she’d want to make changes to the document.
“I’ll make sure we’re open to conversations, but it’s Day One of my campaign,” she said.
Mulroney said she will stick to the PC pledge to cancel the Ontario government’s cap-and-trade climate change plan, but hinted that she will keep the Tory platform’s carbon tax, which funds most of the spending in the plan.
“This is something the federal government is imposing on all of the provinces,” she said. “We have a choice to let them keep the revenue and administer it or we can make sure that we … put the money back in people’s pockets. I think we would be better suited to doing that than the Liberals are.”
Mulroney also said she will not re-open the divisive debate about the Liberal government’s sex education curriculum update.
Politics is just the latest move in a diverse career for Mulroney, who was acclaimed as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the riding of York-Simcoe, north of Toronto, last August.
In 2014, she was appointed to the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority to help oversee the development of a $4 billion second border span between the two cities.
In 2011, Mulroney co-founded the Shoebox Project, a non-profit that collects and distributes gifts to women who are homeless or at risk.
Prior to announcing her political plans, she served as vice-president of Toronto-based BloombergSen Investment Partners, and used to work at a venture debt fund.
“It wasn’t her plan to seek the leadership. She was very, very focused on the riding and on the community and that’s where her efforts went,” said Peter Van Loan, a legislator with the federal Conservative Party who acted as an adviser to Mulroney.
Though new to politics, Mulroney has shown herself to be hardworking and genuine, which has won her support in the community—even among those who may judge her based on the family name, Van Loan said.
“She has intrinsic strengths and intrinsic talents of her own, whatever her name may be,” he said.
Mulroney’s lack of political experience will likely be her biggest challenge, particularly against more seasoned candidates.
But Kathy Brock, a policy expert and political science professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said it could also play in her favour, bringing some freshness to the Tories at a time where their interim leader has vowed to clear out the “rot” from the party.
“This is one of the ways in which being more of a newcomer … might actually be an advantage, given what the Conservatives are going through,” Brock said.
Brown and former party president Rick Dykstra resigned within days of each other after being confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct, which they deny. The allegations have not been independently verified by The Canadian Press.
Mulroney’s entry into the race means there will now be two high-profile women competing for the Tory reins, which could bolster the party’s image, Brock said. Former Tory legislator Christine Elliott threw her hat in the ring in the last week.
“That might be the type of thing that they need to get over the incident with Dykstra and Patrick Brown. It just gives them a new focus and new energy and it makes them look a little more current with the times,” Brock said.
Toronto politician Doug Ford, brother of the city’s late former mayor Rob Ford, is also in the running. Kicking off his candidacy Saturday, Ford promised to keep taxes low, attract more business to the province, and reject a federally imposed carbon tax if elected as the next premier of Ontario.
Candidates have until Feb. 16 to register, and the new leader will be announced March 10.
—With a file from Salmaan Farooqui and Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press