MPPs abandon possible Ontario PC leadership bids

Interim Ontario Progressive Conservative head Vic Fedeli said today he has decided not to enter the race to select a permanent leader.

PC MPPs Lisa MacLeod and Monte McNaughton also revealed they will not be running for leader

Vic Fedeli said Tuesday the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is in worse shape internally than he previously thought. The interim party head says he won't run in the leadership race. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Interim Ontario Progressive Conservative head Vic Fedeli said today he has decided not to enter the race to select a permanent leader. 

Fedeli, chosen by caucus as temporary leader Friday after Patrick Brown resigned in the face of sexual misconduct allegations, said he needs to devote all his energy to fixing problems within the party instead of launching a leadership campaign.

Problems involve its internal reporting, membership lists and analysis, and security of computer systems, he said at a news conference at Queen's Park. Fedeli confirmed that the party suffered a "ransomware attack" on its computer systems on Nov. 1.

The attack targeted the party's servers, which host its voter contact list. The list contains detailed personal information, such as names, addresses and phone numbers, that party operatives often use during campaigns.

No data was compromised in the attack. If it had been, the party would be legally obligated to inform those affected. Fedeli said the party would carry out a review of its computer network.

"I am giving you my word here today, that I will fix the problems in our systems, in my role as leader, and I will root out any rot that manifests itself," Fedeli told reporters.

"Since I spoke to you right in this podium last on Friday, many things have changed. It has been a chaotic time for our party. Quite frankly, a steady hand is needed at our helm for our party today."

'It's time to put the party and the province ahead of any ... personal ambition,' says interim leader 1:22

Fedeli said the internal party structure is in "much worse shape" than previously thought.

"All of this needs work and that's what I intend to do."

Fedeli said candidates need to be assured they are entering a "clean race," and an "outside system" will be brought in to secure its computer systems.

"Fixing this, and it needs fixing, will be a massive undertaking but it's absolutely essential and absolutely doable if we are to win the next election."

In October, Brown boasted of growing the party's base to 127,000 members from about 10,000 following the Tories' 2014 election loss. The number has since grown to 200,000.

Questions have been raised about the party's membership figures, however, which Fedeli said will be scrutinized through an analysis of the party's membership rolls.

'No room' for leadership bid

Fedeli said there is "no room" for a leadership bid from him. He said the party has a strong caucus and a good roster of potential leadership candidates, but fixing the problems will take all of his time.

"This is a massive undertaking. I want to be able to do that exclusively."

Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton — two names that were floated as potential candidates — both sent out statements today saying they won't be running.

Only former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford has formally joined the leadership race, with a decision to be made March 24 ahead of the June 7 provincial election.

Fedeli said that if the elected leader does not have a seat in the Ontario legislature, that person would have to run for a seat in the election.

Proposed rules around the leadership race are set to be finalized by the organizing committee Tuesday night. 

Meanwhile, Fedeli blamed "time," in part, for the rot in the party.

"Time is part of it. We have been focusing on getting out and getting our message out. There is genuine housekeeping that needs to be done. We spent our time on other things. We really do need to fix these issues. I am blunt."

Fedeli's comments come amid major upheaval in the party. 
Former Conservative MP Rick Dykstra resigned his post as president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

On Sunday evening, Rick Dykstra stepped down as party president, hours before Maclean's magazine published a story alleging he had sexually assaulted a parliamentary staffer in Ottawa when he was an MP in 2014. 

CBC Toronto has not independently confirmed the allegations against Dykstra, and they have not been proved in court.

Dykstra's resignation followed that of Brown. The allegations against Brown have also not been proved in court.

Shuffled shadow cabinet

Also Tuesday, Fedeli announced a shuffle of his shadow cabinet:

  • Lisa Thompson, who represents Huron-Bruce, becomes caucus chair, replacing Toby Barrett.
  • Lisa MacLeod, who represents Nepean-Carleton, takes over as finance critic, replacing Fedeli.
  • Lorne Coe, who represents Whitby-Oshawa, is now education critic, replacing Brown.
"I'm proud that our experienced Ontario PC caucus has strong female leadership," Fedeli said in the release. 

He said Thompson, in particular, will work to implement a plan to strengthen workplace violence and harassment policies.

"As a team, we will continue to work, day in and day out, to hold the [Kathleen] Wynne Liberals accountable for years of scandal, mismanagement and waste, and continue to make the case for change at Queen's Park." 

With files from The Canadian Press