Doug Ford’s victory in Ontario – and capture of NDP and Liberal seats – has prompted Tory strategists to urge federal leadership candidates to take a leaf out of his book and try to turn political foes into allies.
Ford, whose appeal to blue-collar voters led to the Tories seizing NDP strongholds including Windsor-Tecumseh, said in his victory speech that he did not care too much for “political stripes” and would govern for everyone regardless of which party they usually support.
The Ontario premier’s comfortable majority win led to conservatives involved in election campaigns to urge Tory federal leadership candidates to engage with historically hostile groups to try and win them over.
Michael Diamond, who worked on Ford’s leadership campaign as well as federal Conservative general election campaigns, said there was a “huge lesson” for Tory leadership candidates from Ford’s win about “growing beyond your historical confines.”
“Turning enemies into friends without turning friends into enemies is what Doug Ford did,” Diamond said. “By reaching out and making inroads and engaging in dialogue, Ford attracted a new demographic to the party.”
Diamond said the Progressive Conservative premier’s appeal to the labour movement and his endorsement by trade unions made crucial inroads into the NDP’s traditional working-class base. This is a strategy leadership contenders could mirror to grow Tory support federally.
“The NDP has tried to be a party of the woke left, the metropolitan elite and faculty lounge cocktail parties,” he said. “The labour movement isn’t caught up in so many of these issues. They want a stronger economy so the mills don’t close. When the NDP kowtows to downtown communities and elites, they are turning off traditional voters.”
Chris McCluskey, a Conservative strategist and former aide to several Tory ministers, said Ford was “successful in reshaping what conservatism is about in the view of a lot of people – and that includes constituencies that were previously thought inaccessible.”
McCluskey, a senior consultant at Proof Strategies, added: “The confidence the premier has earned is instructive and something that leadership candidates have been looking at.”
Conservative leadership contenders have until midnight to secure party memberships for their supporters to vote in the election for the next Conservative leader, who will replace Erin O’Toole.
The deadline is a major milestone in the campaign and marks the start of a new phase in the race.
The party’s leadership election organizing committee said late last month it had already broken records for how many new members candidates have drawn in ahead of the Friday cut-off.
“The party membership in the past two leadership races has been around 270,000 people, of which only about 60 per cent vote,” said veteran conservative campaigner Melanie Paradis, who has remained neutral in the race.
“From what I’ve heard from party sources, the number will now be north of 400,000. Which means that we’ve probably had like 250,000 renewals and 150,000 new members.”
Leadership candidates have spent the last several months encouraging potential supporters to sign up to vote. In the final days before the deadline, they’ve been frantically trying to get as many supporters into the voting pool as possible.
Contender Patrick Brown, a former Tory MP who is now mayor of Brampton, Ont., tweeted on Friday that he had “smashed” his campaign’s goal by signing up over 150,000 members and memberships were “still pouring in.”
Not all memberships are created equal, at least when it comes to the final vote. Each riding is worth a certain number of points, so candidates have had to be strategic about where they grow their base.
“Get your membership so you can vote to take back control of your life,” Pierre Poilievre’s campaign said in an e-mail to people who signed up for his mailing list, but hadn’t yet signed up for a party membership. “Buy the membership now, because after Friday it will be too late.”
Poilievre, Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis, Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber’s names will all be on the ranked ballot in the fall.
Once they’ve signed up all the supporters they can to the party, and those memberships have been processed and verified, the camps will turn their attention to getting out the vote and attempt to persuade their opponents’ supporters to switch allegiances – or at least put their name second on the ballot.
Because of the ranked ballot system, voters’ second choice could play a major role in determining the next leader.
That’s what secured O’Toole’s victory in the last leadership race when he picked up down-ballot support from Lewis and Derek Sloan’s voters.
Between the ranked ballots and the points system used on voting day, it can be difficult to get a sense of who is pulling ahead in the race.
“The algorithm is wild, and it’s why our leaderships are so hard to predict,” Paradis said.
She expects that once the final voter list is released, which could take several weeks, the camps will poll the potential voters on key issues. The results could inform the kinds of promises voters see in the final days of the race, as candidates try to get supporters to change camps.
The new leader will be named in Ottawa on Sept. 10.
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