Published in the Toronto Star May of 2018
When I won the Ontario PC leadership in May of 2015, by the largest margin in the party’s history, I inherited a party that was on the verge of financial bankruptcy. We were $7 million in debt and held the worst balance sheet of all the political parties in Ontario.
Under the capable leadership of Tony Miele and our PC Ontario Fund Board we raised record amounts. In 2016, over a period of six months, I spoke at 234 fundraising dinners and lunches. We raised $16 million that year, a record for any given year in Ontario politics. Fast forward to January 2018, when I was forced out as PC leader, we had $4 million in the war chest, had pre-paid key election expenses and had the best balance sheet of all the political parties in Ontario.
We also witnessed record membership growth. When I announced my intention to run for the Ontario PC leadership on the fall of 2014, we had 12,000 party members, the smallest of all Ontario political parties. We were disproportionately white, rural and old.
By the time I left as leader, we had a membership, which was either 136,000 according to Vic Fedeli or over 200,000 according to Thomas De Groot of the PC Party Party Executive and IT Chair. Either way it was the largest in the party’s history and the largest of any party in Ontario. Even more remarkable, we had become diverse, multicultural, urban, young and finally reflective of the beautiful mosaic that is Ontario.
We built a policy platform — the People’s Guarantee, which was praised across the province and in a Toronto Star editorial. Our policy co-chairs Kaydee Richmond and Kevin Gaudet poured their hearts and souls into this document. It was a home run and a culmination of two years of hard work by the grassroots of our party. What a contrast from some of the past platform launches that had failed miserably, such as faith-based funding in 2007, chain gangs in 2011 or 100,000 job cuts in 2014.
Our platform pushed mental health into the mainstream of Ontario political debate and now all three parties have adopted the funding commitments we made in the People’s Guarantee. Excluding sections on the environment, many parts of the document have been adopted by Doug Ford. I am proud this document has lived beyond my time as leader.
We became the first party to have third party oversight and we even hired private security to attend the particularly contentious nominations. While our nominations certainly became controversial, this was a result of having more candidates interested in running for our party than ever before. When we won by-elections in the Liberal strongholds of Scarborough Rouge River and Sault Ste Marie, it set off an avalanche of interest in becoming a PC Party candidate. We were not prepared as a party for the lengths people would go to win nominations. We had to shut down attempts to print fake ballots, produce fake ID’s, stop fistfights and even the stuffing of ballot boxes. I was beyond frustrated to hear these ongoing stories.
We took steps to ensure these nominations were run fairly and free from abuse. I personally ordered the party to bring in PWC to observe and certify our nominations. I have been as shocked as anyone else to hear about allegations that a candidate stole private 407 data. In retrospect, I am increasingly of the opinion political parties are ill equipped to handle nominations and that it is time to have Elections Ontario manage this part of our democratic process.
Hopefully, the next Parliament can consider this.
Ford said he inherited 90 candidates from me and he wasn’t involved in their vetting. He should sleep easy that he was handed a strong slate of candidates and an impressive potential cabinet. During my leadership, we managed to recruit the most women and visible minority candidates in our party’s history.
Look at Peter Bethlenfalvy in Pickering who ran the credit rating agency DBRS, Rod Philips who ran the OLG, former broadcaster and Hamilton city councillor Donna Skelly, former hockey star Troy Crowder in Sudbury, former Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford in Kenora, Caroline Mulroney, Bay Street lawyer and Brampton South candidate, Prab Sarkaria, Logan Kanapathi in Markham, who is set to be the first Tamil MPP in Ontario’s history, Angely Pacis, the candidate who won in Mississauga Centre who speaks five languages and was set to be the first Filipino Canadian MPP in our province’s history.
My political role model was former Premier Bill Davis. His cabinets were strong and qualified. He always stressed the importance of having a strong team. We were well on our way to recreating the Big Blue Machine of the great Bill Davis that would have governed as a fiscally conservative, moderate, inclusive, pragmatic and progressive party. That’s no mess.