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                     The Ontario PC Leadership Race:

               Shakeup In Christine Elliott's Camp, 

          Candidates Keep A Close Eye On Patrick Brown  



By Susanna Kelley

Now that Doug Ford has decided against running for Ontario Progressive Conservative leader, some of the smoke produced by Ford Nation is clearing, allowing a closer look at the race.

Wherever the Fords are, they tend to suck all the media oxygen out of the room - whether it's Rob's drug-fuelled antics, to dropping out of the mayoralty race, to brother Doug's last-minute entry, and then the agonizing weeks-long cogitation on whether to run for Ontario PC leader.

But with Ford Nation quiet - at least for now - the view is clearer into the other leadership campaigns, and that view is not always what it has appeared.

All has not been well, for instance, in Camp Elliott, where it seems there have been some not-so-happy campers. 

Recently Christine Elliott opened her campaign office, graced with the appearance of none other than PC party eminence grise and former Premier Bill Davis.

Ms. Elliott is well liked in the party, and thought of as a very nice person. As one Tory put it, "who can say a bad word about Christine?"

But at the same time, in the background, there's been a shakeup right up at the campaign manager level.

Up until a little over a week ago, the campaign was being overseen by Jaime Watt and John Capobianco, with Jodi MacDonald as campaign manager.

However, while Mr. Watt and Mr. Capobianco are still in control, sources say Ms. MacDonald has left the Elliott team, and word is, the exit was not necessarily completely voluntary.

Ms. MacDonald has the reputation of a 22-hour a day workaholic with a tendency to brush aside the political niceties when a job needs doing, and just do it herself if the person it was assigned to hasn't delivered quickly enough.

That can be a strong asset, but it may have rubbed some people the wrong way. 

In any event, Ms. MacDonald decided to decamp rather than be shuffled into another post with the Elliott campaign.

That's not exactly the sign of a smoothly running campaign.

Enter Ari Laskin, fresh off a win as campaign manager for Bonnie Crombie's mayoral race to take over from Hazel McCallion in Mississauga.

Mr. Laskin is taking over Ms. MacDonald's position as campaign manager.

He has a number of other wins in his background, from provincial races for Peter Shurman and Gila Martow in Thornhill to Peter Kent in the same federal riding.

And speaking of Ms. Elliott, much has been written calling her the perceived "frontrunner."

There have been several polls by Forum in the Toronto Star, which, it is claimed, show Ms. Elliott out in front.

However, this is severely misleading, and for a very simple reason: Forum's polls are measuring the wrong people: the polls have sampled the general public in Ontario. 

But the general public aren't voting in this particular contest.

Rather, this is a one-member, one-vote election by PC party members only, which means each camp will try to sell as many $10 memberships as possible up to the deadline of February 28th of 2015.

So there can be no accurate polling until the membership lists have been submitted to the party and then released - and that's not for another three months.

Which means you should forget anything you've heard about who is and who isn't the frontrunner just yet.

These are what I like to call "Seinfeld claims" - just like the old comedy show, they are based on ... nothing. 

In other campaign scuttlebutt, candidate Patrick Brown is surprising people to the point that he's said to be making the other leadership camps nervous, with his non-stop, hard driving organizing.

They are watching intently as Mr. Brown, a federal Conservative MP representing the riding of Barrie, seems to have come out of nowhere to now being considered a potentially serious challenge.

Mr. Brown has never held a cabinet post in Stephen Harper's government, nor been very active in the provincial party.

However, he is a very smart organizer, a tireless campaigner and prodigious networker. 

There's no doubt he has been clever in raising his profile.

For example, in his home riding, he puts on "Hockey Night In Barrie" to raise money for the local hospital, bringing in famous NHL players to boost the publicity

Names like Cody Hodgson, Bernie Nichols, Aaron Ekblad, Darcy Tucker, Steven Stamkos and Steve Mason have drawn crowds at the charity hockey games.

It is certainly early days yet in an extremely long campaign - the phony war, as they say, is still on.

The race will heat up in January for real with the frantic selling of party memberships until the end of February, with the consolidation phase before the May vote for a new leader.

Frontrunner?  That's anyone's guess right now.







About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : November 26, 2014

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