Doug Ford wants open review of 'scandalous' and 'ridiculous' Tory leadership vote

Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Doug Ford is calling for a investigation whether he wins or loses, and a legal expert says if the party executive doesn't grant his request, the former Toronto city councillor could launch a legal challenge.

Former Toronto city councillor says tens of thousands of Ontario PC Party members can't cast their votes

Ontario PC Leadership hopeful Doug Ford says voting irregularities have stripped thousands of party members of their vote. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Doug Ford says win or lose he'll be asking for a review of the party's online voting system, which he says has robbed tens of thousands of party members of their say.

"The process is scandalous right now. It's ridiculous," Ford told CBC Toronto at a campaign event Thursday.

The former Toronto city councillor made the comments just hours before news broke that an injunction to extend the voting deadline would be heard in court Friday morning.

Ford served alongside his late brother Rob Ford when he was mayor from 2010 to 2014, says he's been contacted by scores of members.

Ford says they've told him they can't vote, even though they've received their PIN from the party in the mail.

"They went online and it said someone had used their PIN number," said Ford, who demanded the party extend voting by a week, due to delays in verification numbers being mailed out to members.

"Even if I win I'm going to say this is ridiculous. We've got to do a complete review of the party. We've got to find out when things were mailed out, all the people who weren't  allowed to vote," he said.

"Win or lose, they've got to investigate this. If they want to drag it out for another week, I'm all in favour of it." 

Two of the three other candidates, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen, supported Ford's call for members to have another week to register and cast a vote, but were turned down by the party Wednesday evening.

"I am honestly disappointed with the needless stress that this voting process has caused to Ontario PC Members," said Granic Allen in an emailed statement. "I continue to ask ... to delay the close of the vote by one week to ensure that everyone who has the right to vote is able to do so."

Christine Elliott was the only leadership hopeful to oppose the extension.

Ontario PC leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen speaks with a young supporter during a campaign stop in Windsor-Essex on March 6, 2018. Tanya Granic Allen supports Ford's call to extend voting by a week to ensure all eligible party members have their say. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

In denying the request for a delay, the Ontario PC Party Leadership Election Organizing Committee said the party has "built an election system to be proud of. 

"While there were challenges with our mail delivery, and some members were unable to participate fully in this election,  the metrics are very strong: nearly 70,000 members have verified their membership already, and well over 44,000 have already voted," the committee said.

"This is, in our view, not only a fundamental change in the Rules at a late time in the campaign, but also contrary to our Party's Constitution,  which provides that in this case the vote must conclude no later than March 9."

'Constitution, my backside'

Ford is not impressed with the party's response.

"Constitution. my backside. It's a bunch of nonsense. They can move this in a heartbeat," he said.

"I've never seen something that disenfranchises more people from a party than this does," Ford said. 

He believes a week's delay is reasonable.

"I'm saying this not knowing if it will benefit me, but I'd rather win or lose based on a fair race."

Michael Fenrick, a lawyer and partner at  Paliare Roland, says there are options open to Ford to get the review he says he wants — up to and including legal action.

He says Ford could look to the party itself for an internal review, but that would need the party executive to agree.

"So if there's any appeal or review to the party executive or an appeal panel, that's an option and that's one they'd have to pursue before they could get into court," Fenrick told CBC Toronto.

Michael Fenrick, partner at the law firm Paliare Roland, says Ford would have to first ask the party's executive for a review and that only after exhausting any internal processes could he mount a legal challenge. (Paliare Roland)

If Ford doesn't get his review he could mount a legal challenge, Fenrick says, but only if these internal options are exhausted. 

"Of course. the party as a whole has a large public interest in keeping the process going, given how close we are to an election and wanting to have some finality over the results," he said. 

"A court challenge could cast a shadow over the legitimacy of whoever ends up winning the race."

But getting a judge to review the process could be a long shot, Fenrick adds.

"Any challenge like this is very much an uphill battle. There's a principle of separation of powers between judicial branch and the partisan political process."

Leadership candidates Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott do not support Ford's call for an open review of the voting process, despite acknowledging that it's flawed.

"My focus today is on ensuring that those who have their registration know that the deadline has been extended to 8 p.m. tonight," said Mulroney in an emailed statement.

Caroline Mulroney during the PC leadership debate at TVO studios in Toronto on February 15, 2018. Mulroney says while there were problems with the voting system, she is confident there will be a fair result. (David Donnelly/CBC)

"It is clear that there were problems with the distribution of the PINs and this is something that I will be looking into when I am elected Leader," she added.

Although Elliott's team did not respond to a request for comment, earlier her senior campaign team said: "We are surprised by the assertions of Mr. Ford. His representatives at [the Leadership Election Organizing Committee] have sat silently in our meetings for days, never bringing up such issues."

Christine Elliott acknowledges problems with the online voting system, but says her team has made helping member with registering and voting its priority. (Canadian Press)

Elliott's team says they've been reaching out to individual members by phone, online and in person to address issues arising from the registration and voting process.

As for the Leadership Election Organizing Committee, it says: "We have learned a lot through this process and will work to ensure that the challenges Party members faced in this Leadership Election will not occur again."


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.