Ontario PC leadership candidates race face off in second debate in Ottawa


OTTAWA — The four candidates competing to lead Ontario’s Opposition will face off once more today as the Progressive Conservatives try to turn the page following weeks of unrivalled upheaval.

Former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, Toronto lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford and social conservative advocate Tanya Granic Allen are taking part in the second and final debate before the party selects a new leader.

Former leader Patrick Brown — who launched a bid to reclaim his old job a day after the first debate — was expected to join them for the Ottawa event.

But Brown backed out of the race Monday, saying his candidacy had caused hardship for his friends and family, and had drawn focus away from the party’s goal of defeating the governing Liberals in the spring election.

The Barrie, Ont., politician stepped down last month amid sexual misconduct allegations, which he maintains are false, and that have not been independently confirmed by The Canadian Press.

His departure in late January set off what the party’s interim leader Vic Fedeli has called a period of “unprecedented” tumult.

With Brown out of the leadership race, Fedeli — who weeks earlier vowed to clear the “rot” from the party — said the Tories are ready to close the door on what has been a difficult chapter in their history.

He said the party has emerged from its ordeal stronger and with more momentum than before, citing a boost in membership numbers and fundraising.

Some experts, however, have said it may not be that easy for the Tories to turn the page, and at least two of the leadership candidates — Mulroney and Elliott — have said some changes to the party’s structure and processes would be warranted.

Mulroney said Tuesday that if she is elected leader, she will introduce a plan that would beef up the party’s sexual harassment policies, modernize its technology and software, and establish rules for “legitimate” party expenses.

Elliott said she believes some changes are needed, but the party’s “foundation is strong.”

Voting for the new leader is set to begin Friday with the winner to be announced on March 10.

The Canadian Press