Ontario PCs gather for convention after a victorious but turbulent year

The first big gathering of Progressive Conservative party members since Doug Ford’s decisive election victory takes place this weekend in Toronto.

Longtime PC insider endorsed by Doug Ford seeks party presidency, against outspoken critic of Patrick Brown

Brian Patterson, left, is running to be president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, and has been publicly endorsed by Premier Doug Ford. ( )

The first big gathering of Progressive Conservative party members since Doug Ford's decisive election victory takes place this weekend in Toronto. 

Although the convention will be largely a celebration, it comes shortly after a cabinet minister was forced to step down after an allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour, two senior political staff were shown the door in rapid succession, and former leader Patrick Brown released a book claiming he was toppled by people inside the party. 

Also, there's a bitter race for the party presidency, to be decided Sunday by the 1,750 voting delegates expected to attend. It pits longtime party operative Brian Patterson against outspoken grassroots activist Jim Karahalios. 

That Karahalios is even running for the party presidency shows just how much has changed since the last PC convention a year ago: the party executive revoked his membership and barred him from attending over his criticism of then-leader Patrick Brown. 

That event saw the launch of Brown's election platform, called the People's Guarantee. The platform included a carbon tax, with all the revenue returned to Ontarians in the form of income tax cuts. Barely two months later, Brown resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct, and the candidates to replace him all abandoned the carbon tax as politically toxic. 

Jim Karahalios, who was such a critic of former PC leader Patrick Brown that the party revoked his membership and sued him, is running for party president at the weekend convention. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)

Karahalios believes the leadership candidates did that in no small part because his AxeTheCarbonTax campaign had revealed the policy was deeply unpopular among PC party members. Karahalios also drew attention to questionable nominations that were eventually overturned after Brown was ousted as leader. 

Karahalios now has his sights trained on his rival. 

"Brian Patterson has friends in the party ... and they'll do anything to stop me from being party president because they're trying to hold on to a relic of the past," said Karahalios in an interview this week with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. 

"The tens of thousands of PC members that want their say and want a party that is governed with integrity and accountability, that want the party constitution to be upheld, I have their support." 

Patterson, who did not respond to a CBC request for an interview, has the public endorsement of at least a dozen cabinet ministers and the premier.

"People like Brian Patterson and his team have been dedicated to our party and our conservative roots for many years," said Ford in a statement posted to Patterson's Twitter account.

"What our party needs right now is an executive that is forward looking, represents the voices of our grassroots across the province, and works well with me and my team here at Queen's Park." 

Patterson's campaign slogan is "For the Members," echoing Ford's "For the People," and his logo mimics the visuals that were on Ford's campaign signage this spring.  

"It's up to party members to decide and I think that they`ll make the right decision," said Melissa Lantsman, who is on Patterson's slate of candidates for the party executive as regional vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area. 

Lantsman led the election campaign "war room" for the party this spring. 

The party needs "to make sure that we choose somebody to move forward, and not to reexamine and lick our wounds from the last 15 years," said Lantsman in an interview with CBC News.

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.