As I write this, the Ontario Progress Conservative Party caucus is meeting at Queen’s Park in Toronto to choose an interim leader following the shocking resignation of Patrick Brown.
What is a caucus? It’s the group of elected members of the same party. All members of provincial parliament from the the PC Party are members of the PC Party caucus.
Who chooses the new Leader?
Article 22.3 of the PC Party Constitution gives caucus the responsibility to choose an Interim Leader “who shall be recognized as the Leader of the Party” in the event of the resignation of the Leader. That Interim Leader has all the powers and responsibilities of a permanent Leader.
Caucus can choose any qualified member of the Party as Interim Leader – he or she doesn’t need to be a member of caucus. In practicality, though, I would be gobsmacked if they choose “an outsider” in this case. They will almost certainly choose a currently sitting PC MPP.
But, caucus does not get to decide that whether their choice of Interim Leader becomes permanent. That’s for Party members to decide.
Their are currently more than 200,000 members of the PC Party of Ontario. They regularly elect an Executive committee to manage the internal workings of the Party. This executive group does not normally include elected MPPs – other than the Leader and one other representative of caucus. Article 25 of the Party constitution requires the Executive to call a Leadership Election in the event of the death, retirement or resignation of the Leader. The Constitution directs them to call for that election within 18 months of the resignation (in this case) – and for the voting day to be set within six months the date that election is called.
Therefore, an Interim Leader selected by caucus could act as Party Leader for up to 24 months. Since an Interim Leader is The Leader, he or she can lead the Party through an election.
Updated 5:32 pm Jan 26: The PC Party Executive has decided there will be a Leadership Election for members to vote before the June provincial general election. No information yet on the details or timing, beyond saying the new leader will be in place by the end of March. See how they might decide to do it below.
Is there time to elect a new Leader before the June general election?
Yes. Article 25 of the PC Party Constitution sets out guidance for a leadership election. It does not set out any minimum time constraints – just a requirement that the process be complete within 24 months as discussed above. The Constitution gives the Executive broad power to “make the rules” of the election, so it would be quite possible to set up an election like this:
- Set a date for 30-40 days from now. That would give the Party enough time to organize polling stations across the province (required by the Constitution) establish an oversight committee, appoint election officials, etc.
- Establish a cut-off for membership as early as possible.* Article 25.4 requires a membership “cut off” (the point after which a new member would be ineligible to vote) be set not before the 1/2 way period of the campaign. A 30-day campaign, then would allow a 15-day period of membership sales. That’s reasonable in this case. The party has grown from 9,000 members in 2015 to 200,000+ today. These 200,000 members developed the policy, approved the platform and are ready to go. The new leader – whomever it is – should be someone amenable to existing members.
- Leadership elections normally begin with a long period of membership sales – with candidates trying to sell enough new memberships to their supporters so they can win the vote. A 15-day cut-off allows outsiders to sell some memberships, but really means the focus of the campaign would not be on sales, but on persuading existing members. This limits the field of potential candidates and, frankly, that’s a good thing.
- Membership sales also raises money for the party. But, the PC Party is flush with cash and doesn’t need to raise more through membership sales.
- Set a 5-day nomination period. Require candidates to be nominated within 5 days. They already know who they are. The Constitution requires them to be nominated by at least 100 members, with no more than 10 members from any one riding. If a potential candidate can’t organize this kind of support in 5 days, they aren’t ready to lead.
- Set a $25,000 buy in. If a candidate can’t raise this amount in 5 days, they’re not a real contender.
This process would allow the Party to have a new, elected Leader in place before the end of February. Updated 12:30 pm Jan 26: The caucus selected Vic Fedeli, MPP for Nipissing as its Interim Leader.
Can the Interim Leader run for the permanent job?
Yes. There is nothing in the Constitution preventing this. Often, caucus exacts an undertaking from Interim Leader candidates that they not run for the permanent role… but it is not binding. It may be possible for the Executive to set an Election Rule establishing this, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
The PC Party Executive is meeting at noon today – so, we will know what they’ve decided today.
Would the new Leader have to follow Patrick Brown’s platform?
Pretty much, yes… but. Article 22.3 of the PC Party Constitution requires the Leader to “obtain the ratification of the Party election platform, both from the Caucus and from the Policy Committee of the Party.”
The Party’s current platform “The People’s Guarantee” has been approved. It was the result of the broadest policy consultation and development process the party has ever undertaken. All 200,000+ members, and all members of caucus, and all 90 already nominated PC candidates are fully invested in it. A new Leader, interim or otherwise, would be well-advised to leave it largely untouched beyond some very minor cosmetic tweaks. She or he would have a real challenge going through that process again in the time available – and the process itself would be divisive. Divisive is bad just weeks before an election.
Can they win?
Yes. Patrick Brown’s fall from grace has done nothing to make Premier Kathleen Wynne any more popular. A Forum Research poll conducted after Brown resigned confirms this – and that the PC Party as an alternative to the Liberals has not been damaged by this scandal.
What must they do now?
Run a short, civilized leadership election designed simply to allow the membership to choose. This is not the time for a divisive battle over ideology or vision. That has already been established. Then, the Party must stand united behind the new Leader and run the best, mistake-free campaign they’ve ever done. Not an easy thing. But, doable.
* This section of the post has been updated. I’d overlooked Art. 25.4 which mandates a minimum membership sales period. Thanks to Kevin Wiener for pointing out my error!