Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Simply Too Close to Call

No clear front-runner in Ontario PC leadership campaign

As Ontario Progressive Conservatives weigh their leadership candidates ahead of the leadership convention later this month, it seems that the jury is still out on the matter of leadership.

In a recent poll of Ontario Tories Tim Hudak narrowly leads the pack with 26% of decided voters, with Christine Elliott trailing by four points, at 22%. Frank Klees is sitting third with 17% and Frank Hillier trails the pack with 14%.

19% of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives remain undecided.

Considering that no one candidate has enough support to break the 50% barrier on the first ballot even if all undecided voters were to gravitate to their candidacy, second choices will become very important in this contest.

Christine Elliott is the top second choice with 17%, leading Hudak by a single point in this category. Klees follows by yet another single point at 15%, and Hillier again trails the pack as the second choice of 7% of decided Progressive Conservatives.

In the closest position that passes for front-runner status in this campaign, Hudak enjoys the benefit of an endorsement by Mike Harris, the last Progressive Conservative to lead his party to a majority government in Queen's Park -- even if the first of the two was an unlikely majority.

Yet the National Post's Dan Arnold notes that Hudak may be suffering the same affliction that Alberta PC leadership candidate Jim Dinning succumbed to. Dinning, along with Ted Morton, eventually compromised the campaign to Ed "Stalemate" Stelmach.

As the presumed frontrunner, Hudak's campaign has suffered from a lack of tangible policy. Hudak's policy centrepiece, a bid to abolish the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is believed to have driven support away from his campaign to that of Elliott, his presumed primary rival in this contest.

With these particular conditions, one can likely expect a stalemate to emerge at the June 27 PC leadership convention. Under those kinds of conditions, one may expect Frank Klees to replicate Ed Stelmach's feat, and emerge as a brokered leader.

This may not be such a bad thing. Stelmach went on to win one of the most dominant majority governments in the history of Alberta.

Then again, Ontario is an incredibly far cry from Alberta. As Tory leader Frank Klees may have to struggle to find life, let alone be assured a long tenure in the Premier's Office.

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