A farmer and former head of the Ontario Landowners Association scored a political upset Thursday night when he won the Progressive Conservative nomination in the eastern Ontario riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills over longtime MPP Norm Sterling.
Jack MacLaren won the nomination after a raucous meeting that drew so many voters — over 1,000 — it had to moved from a Stittsville high school auditorium to a venue at Scotiabank Place.
MacLaren, a staunch libertarian who calls for less government regulation, will be the party's candidate in Carleton-Mississippi Mills in the upcoming provincial fall election.
Sterling, a centrist who held nine cabinet posts over his 34-year career in the provincial legislature, ran on his record and had the endorsements of high-profile conservatives such as former Premier Mike Harris and federal Tory MP John Baird.
Sterling wasn't talking Friday and his constituency office was closed.
MacLaren says Ontario is looking for small-c conservatives
MacLaren was pleased with a campaign that echoed the success of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
"Up until last year nobody would ever say you could get a conservative elected in Toronto, and that was wrong ... I think small-c conservative government is what people are looking for in Ontario," he told CBC News on Friday.
MacLaren is a fifth-generation farmer, a man with next to no political experience and a fear of public speaking.
"I never had any ambition to be a politician," he said Friday. "I never thought I'd be doing what we did last night."
At the nomination meeting, MacLaren told the crowd he believes in small government, low taxes and minimal regulation.
"I believe that government should exist to serve people, not rule over them."
MacLaren's Liberal opponents say his victory represents a shift in the Conservative party toward more Americanized, Tea Party-style politics.
Bob Chiarelli, the Liberal MPP for Ottawa West-Napean, said such a move "means trouble for Ontario."
PC leader Tim Hudak sent two messages following the vote, one to Sterling thanking him for his dedication, and another congratulating MacLaren.