Ontario PCs to hold leadership race before next election

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario will hold a leadership race ahead of the upcoming provincial election, the party's executive committee announced Friday, hours after its caucus appointed an interim leader.

Decision by executive committee contrasts wishes of caucus, which named Vic Fedeli as interim

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario will hold a leadership race ahead of the upcoming provincial election, the party's executive committee announced Friday, hours after its caucus appointed an interim leader. 

All 200,000 members of the party will vote on March 24 on a new leader to challenge Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. But officially, what party president Rick Dykstra vowed will be a "very competitive, spirited race," hasn't started yet. Dykstra said the time frame will be established later.

"This is going to have to be a very quick process," he told reporters on Friday afternoon. 

The "aggressive" move contrasts an earlier decision by the party's caucus that MPP Vic Fedeli would serve as leader through the upcoming election on June 7.

"At the end of the day this party always stands united, always stands focused and I can assure you that when this is finished before the end of March, we will be ready to take on government in June of 2018," he said.

Dykstra noted that Fedeli will be able to run in the leadership race.

"He is our leader. He will be given the chance to do everything necessary to have us in great shape for that leadership race," he said. 

Fedeli, legislature member representing the northeastern Ontario riding of Nipissing and the party's finance critic for the last five years, took over one day after Patrick Brown resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct made by two women. 

"It's humbling and an honour to have the unanimous support of my colleagues and friends in the Ontario PC caucus," Fedeli told reporters from the provincial legislature in Toronto.

"We need to focus immediately on Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals. There is no time to waste."

Vic Fedeli, the newly appointed interim leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, asks Patrick Brown to take a leave of absence from caucus following allegations of sexual misconduct. 0:59

While Brown remains as MPP for Simcoe North and has denied any wrongdoing, Fedeli called for him to voluntarily take a leave of absence as the allegations are investigated, despite having the power to force Brown out of the caucus if he wants.

Fedeli has said he was "disgusted" by the allegations, but also said he "never saw anything that would have indicated" such behaviour by Brown. 

Lisa MacLeod, MPP for Nepean–Carleton, told reporters on Friday that the caucus is "united" behind Fedeli.

A Queen's Park legislative staff member takes down Brown's office name at the provincial legislature. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"We're turning a new page and I think people will be able to sleep tonight," she said.

At least one caucus member said the party would be best served by Fedeli staying on in the role.

"We're 133 days from the election, we have a lot of very, very capable people in this caucus that have been through these wars before and they know what to expect and I think, while there are those out there who may be ready for a leadership race, this isn't the right time for that," MPP Todd Smith said.

Smith added that the PCs will continue to "sell the plan" that Brown and the campaign team put forward last November, which they call the People's Guarantee.

"This was a plan… that was developed by all of our party members. Why would we want to go changing anything like that right now? I think we have a really good plan that can win."

Fedeli echoed that sentiment while speaking to reporters, reiterating that the policy platform was derived from years-long consultations with members across Ontario.

Another caucus member, Gila Martow, said that no matter what approach the party takes, it must get back on track fast.

Fedeli was chosen by caucus after a lengthy morning meeting. He was considered by many to be a favourite for the role. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"I've been hearing nonstop from people that they want us to move quickly, get things in order and carry on what we've been doing," she said.

An open letter circulating on social media, however, called on the executive committee to hold a leadership contest in the coming weeks "so that we can offer Ontarian the certainty and stability of a permanent leader as they choose which party should form government and who should become premier.

"Party members have the right to choose their leader," reads the letter, which was endorsed by several high-profile PC candidates who are not currently in caucus.

With files from The Canadian Press

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