It seemed the wee hours of last Friday night was the absolute nadir of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party. But here we are, less than a week later, dropping like a stone in an endless abyss.
Interim Leader Vic Fedeli announced Tuesday he wasn’t going to be running to be permanent leader of the party. No, instead he has the mountainous task ahead of him of to “root out any rot” in the party.
And my god, the rot.
Not only did the former leader, Patrick Brown, have to flee the party in the middle of the night when accusations surfaced via CTV he was a serial creep and possible sexual assaulter. But the president of the party, Rick Dykstra, also had to leave the party when Maclean’s started asking about an incident where police investigated whether he’d sexually assaulted a staffer before the 2015 federal election.
(None of these accusations have been tested in court, and no charges have been laid in either case, I should add.)
That’s unfathomably bad, but this being the PCs, it gets even worse. The Toronto Star reports Hamilton Police are investigating possible fraud in a riding nomination fight in that city, and Fedeli’s office is cooperating. Plus, Fedeli told reporters the party’s membership list is of questionable quality. The 200,000 members who have signed up for the party may be, according to the Star,something closer to 75,000.
“Fixing this, and it needs fixing, will be a massive undertaking.… Our party structure is in much worse shape than we knew,” he told a press conference.
That’s…not good. And it will probably get worse. Already, some members are lining up to complain about “Toronto elites” within the party purging real honest grass roots members. This can only get uglier.
In the initial wake of Brown’s departure, people talked about this as some kind of fresh start for the party. Freed from a leader of dubious quality—and it was assumed he was before it was known Brown was a vicious creep—the Progressive Conservatives could go into this year’s election with a fresh face.
No matter how unpopular the guy was with the rank and file, and invisible to the electorate, it’s baffling to suggest this would have been a good thing. Modern politics are so geared toward the leader, the entire apparatus of the party swings around the fulcrum of the person at the head.
And now the party has decided to pick a new permanent leader in March and then the election is—hang on here, let me check—oh, good. June. So, the new leader will have three-ish months to introduce themselves, pick a direction, and run in a general election. It’s a, uh, tall order.
Now, I want to be clear about this: the Progressive Conservatives need to fully reckon with the “rot” within their ranks. The only way to root awful behaviour Brown and Dykstra are accused of is to get rid the people accused of it. This is a necessary moment of we’re seeing in politics, specifically, and society, broadly.
The glib analysis of all this is how great it is for the Liberal party to have their main opposition completely immolate just months before the province goes to the ballot box. But I’ve got to say, it’s awfully bad for the province of Ontario.
The Ontario Liberals probably should have been tossed from office ages ago. It’s a party and a government been hobbled by scandals of varying degrees of magnitude for years now under two different leaders. But each time since taking power the party has faced the electorate, some horrible idea of the PCs let’s the Liberals keep skating. It doesn’t matter whether they’re doing an awful job of running the province or not, there’s no one with the credibility to call them to the mat on it.
To point to just one example, their only solution to ever-escalating hydro prices is to, essentially, take out a loan to give people a rebate. That’s not doing anything to actually fix the problem, hydro prices aren’t really changing, they’ve just moved money around to put some in your pocket. Needless to say, they will be coming back for that rebate money at some point.
And so, increasingly, Ontario looks like a one-party province in the mould of (until recently) Alberta. It’s unhealthy for a democracy when there aren’t multiple credible options for citizens to choose between come election day.
The Progressive Conservatives let their party be taken over by a pack of creeps. All sorts of shenanigans seem to have taken place in the wake of that. And now, months before the election they’ve decided to clean up the mess.
Seems to me the biggest loser in all of this is the province.