Politics Analysis

How the Ontario PC leadership candidates stack up

The Ontario PCs will announce their new leader today. Who will it be?

March 10, 2018

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidates (left to right) Tanya Granic Allen, Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney and Doug Ford. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The debates are done, the ballots have been cast — and today, we expect to learn who will lead the Ontario Progressive Conservatives into the June provincial election.

Though leadership races can be opaque affairs that are difficult to parse from the outside, there are some clues that can tell us who has the inside track.

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Three metrics can help reveal where a leadership race stands: endorsements, fundraising and polling. And while these metrics do not agree entirely on which of the four candidates — Tanya Granic Allen, Christine Elliott, Doug Ford and Caroline Mulroney — has the best chance of winning, they do provide a glimpse of the contours of the race.

Mulroney leads in fundraising

The ability to raise money — a lot of it — is often a good predictor of how a candidate will do in a leadership race.

Mulroney has raised the most money so far. Her campaign says she has taken in just over $938,000 as of Thursday night. It's an enormous sum — Andrew Scheer raised only a little more than that for a campaign to lead the federal Conservatives that lasted for eight months.

It also puts Mulroney ahead of Elliott — who says she has raised over $746,000 — and Ford, who claims to have pulled in over $400,000.

Granic Allen's campaign did not respond to questions about its fundraising total. Financial disclosures show she has raised at least $118,000, but Elections Ontario only posts contributions from donors who give $100 or more.

For that reason, it's not possible to confirm the fundraising totals claimed by each campaign; the complete results will be made public on the Elections Ontario website after the race is over.

Ontario PC leadership candidate Caroline Mulroney has raised the most money in this campaign. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

But while Mulroney has the edge in total donations, she trails Elliott and Ford in the total number of donors. Mulroney has raised her money from about 2,879 donors, giving an average of about $326 each. Ford claims more than 4,200 donors and Elliott more than 4,600, giving an average donation of about $160 for Elliott and $95 for Ford.

Having more donors might suggest a larger base of supporters, but in past leadership races the total sums raised have been more predictive than the number of donors.

Advantage: Mulroney, with Elliott and Ford each raising enough to be competitive.

Elliott ahead in endorsements

Endorsements from MPPs, MPs and nominated candidates are not necessarily decisive on their own (though in the federal Conservative leadership race, an endorsement from a sitting MP was worth about 11 percentage points in his or her riding). But they can deliver the support of local organizations that can help with get-out-the-vote efforts.

They also serve as an informal poll of who the people with skin in the game think can win.

Elliott leads on endorsements by a wide margin. She has the backing of 13 PC MPPs, nine Ontario Conservative MPs and 30 nominated PC candidates, according to a tally by CBC News. That gives her 52 endorsements from these three categories.

Christine Elliott has the most endorsements in the campaign to replace Patrick Brown as Ontario PC leader. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The only other candidate with a significant number of endorsements within the party is Mulroney, who has 32 party people backing her (five MPPs, eight MPs and 19 candidates). Ford has the support of two MPPs and three candidates, while Granic Allen has none.

But while having endorsements is helpful, it isn't enough on its own. Elliott had significantly more endorsements than Patrick Brown did in 2015. Brown won.

Advantage: Elliott, with Mulroney posting a respectable list.

Poll shows coin flip between Elliott and Ford

Mainstreet Research, which obtained a list of PC party members to survey, suggests that the race is a toss-up between Elliott and Ford.

In the survey published on Friday — conducted between Mar. 1-8 and surveying 18,308 members of the party — Mainstreet showed Elliott and Ford tied at 35 per cent apiece on the first ballot (taking into account the equal weighting being applied to Ontario's 124 ridings).

Mulroney trailed in third with 17 per cent, with Granic Allen in fourth at 12.5 per cent.

If the results on Saturday mimic the poll, Granic Allen will be eliminated on the first ballot and more than two-thirds of her supporters will go to Ford, pushing him ahead of Elliott on the second ballot. But about two-thirds of Mulroney's supporters, after her elimination on the second ballot, would go to Elliott.

Doug Ford was effectively tied with Christine Elliott in a poll of PC party members by Mainstreet Research. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Simulating the vote to the final ballot, Mainstreet found Elliott narrowly finishing ahead of Ford, 51 to 49 per cent.

Considering the margin of error in the poll, how that error could be amplified over multiple rounds of voting and the intricacies involved in counting the votes, that split between Ford and Elliott is basically a toss-up. The winner could be chosen by a handful of party members.

Polls of all Ontarians indicate that whoever does win could also win the June election — but Elliott and Mulroney come with fewer risks for the party. The Angus Reid Institute finds that both Elliott and Mulroney are seen favourably by the general population, while a majority of Ontarians have an unfavourable view of Ford.

And among those voters who would consider voting PC but are not yet locked-in, an Elliott or Mulroney leadership would make them more likely to vote PC. Ford would make them less likely to cast a ballot for the party.

Advantage: Toss-up between Elliott and Ford.

Elliott vs. Ford, with Mulroney a long-shot

Taking the three metrics into account, along with their predictive value, suggests that the race is between Elliott and Ford. These are the two candidates who perform best in polling of PC members, and both have enough money to mount a credible campaign.

Ford's lack of endorsements should not significantly hamper him, as his campaign has been explicitly anti-establishment from the beginning. But it could be a signal that he has limited growth potential, while Elliott's endorsements point to her being a compromise candidate.

Mulroney's endorsement list and impressive fundraising suggest that she could put up good numbers on the first ballot and cannot be ruled out.

But the polling indicates that the membership hasn't preferred her over the other options in large enough numbers to put her in the running. That puts her in a category with Erin O'Toole, who ran for the federal Conservative leadership with fundraising and endorsement numbers similar to Scheer's, but lacked the polling numbers to make him a serious contender.

Mulroney needs the polls to be very wrong — or for the turnout to tilt disproportionately in her direction and away from her rivals — in order to pull off an upset.

That's how it looks from the outside, anyway. We'll find out what those on the inside think this afternoon.


On the latest episode of the Pollcast, host Éric Grenier is joined by the CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick and Mike Crawley to break down the final days of the Ontario PC leadership race.

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In two days, the chaotic race to replace Patrick Brown as Ontario PC leader comes to an end. The CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick and Mike Crawley join Pollcast host Éric Grenier to break it down.  23:14

Subscribe to the Pollcast here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Éric Grenier
Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

With files from Salma Ibrahim and Mike Crawley
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