Christine Elliott concedes to Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford
After disputing leadership vote count, Elliott says she is now 'confident' in the results
Christine Elliott is conceding defeat to Doug Ford, congratulating the new Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and promising to run for the party in the June provincial election.
Her move brings to an end the extended drama of the party's tumultuous leadership race, triggered six weeks ago by the sudden resignation of Patrick Brown amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Elliott initially disputed the results announced late Saturday, alleging "serious irregularities" in the voting. The party declared Ford the winner by a margin of just one percentage point.
But in a statement issued Sunday night, Elliott struck a conciliatory tone.
"Our team took the last twenty-four hours to review the results of an election that was incredibly close," she said in the statement. "After completing my review, I am confident in the results. I extend my congratulations to Doug Ford on a hard-fought campaign."
As CBC News reported first, Elliott initiated a meeting with Ford on Sunday afternoon. The pair met for "several hours," according to a senior official on the Elliott campaign.
While the official said the campaign team believes they have a good case to dispute the result, the only recourse would be to go to court, and that is not something Elliott or her team want to do with the party facing an election on June 7.
"Christine is choosing not to challenge this," said the official. "Christine and the team were unanimous that this was the right way forward. The name of the game is unifying the party."
"Ontario needs a Progressive Conservative government to finally defeat Kathleen Wynne," Elliott said in her statement. "I look forward to running as a candidate."
Ford eked out his victory on the third ballot, after candidate Tanya Granic Allen was knocked off on the first ballot and Caroline Mulroney on the second.
"While we were opponents for a few short days, today we are standing together," Ford said in a statement after his meeting with Elliott. "Leadership races can be tough on political parties, and for the candidates that compete in them. For me, there was no tougher part than running against Christine Elliott."
Earlier in the day, Ford made his first public appearance since the win at the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Toronto, marching for a short time alongside MPP Lisa MacLeod.
"I look forward to beating Kathleen Wynne and bringing prosperity back to this great province," he told reporters.
Elliott's concession clears the stage for the run-up to the June 7 provincial election, pitting Ford against Wynne, along with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. The timelines are tight: the Wynne government delivers its budget on March 28, and the official campaign period begins on May 9.
"Doug Ford has a lot of work to do," said Kevin Gaudet, a veteran Conservative strategist and president of BrightPoint Strategy. "He's got to unite his caucus, he's got to line up his candidates behind him, he's got to put his platform in place and he's got to build his brand outside of the GTA [Greater Toronto Area]."
Wynne held a campaign-style rally in Brampton on Sunday and only mentioned Ford by name once in a 20-minute speech.
"I'd like to wish Doug well, even though we disagree about many things. I'd like to welcome him to provincial politics," said Wynne.
To cheers from the party faithful, Wynne added: "Here's the thing: it doesn't matter that the Conservatives have a new leader."
Horwath hit a similar note when she spoke to reporters Sunday. "Whether it's Doug Ford or any of the other contenders, the Conservatives are wanting to drag our province backwards."