Doug Ford has ticked off potential rivals for the leadership of Ontario’s struggling Progressive Conservatives without even entering the race.
His comment that four MPPs and one MP in the hunt for Tim Hudak’s old job aren’t up to defeating Premier Kathleen Wynne landed with a thud at Queen’s Park.
“I’ll stack my winnability up against anybody else’s any day,” leadership candidate and four-term Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod said Wednesday as the prospect of Ford in the contest gripped politicos.
Liberals privately rub their hands with glee at the idea while Conservatives reel at the thought given his penchant for impolitic remarks and the baggage of his brother Rob’s scandals.
Ford, who placed a close second to John Tory for the Toronto mayoralty and is mulling a leadership bid, also earned a rebuke from interim PC Leader Jim Wilson.
He said Ford’s negative comments about potential rivals is no way to show an interest in running.
“Certainly the five candidates in the race now are eminently qualified … I don’t agree with his premise at all,” Wilson told reporters.
Ford is welcome to take a shot at the leadership, “but he shouldn’t be disparaging the people in the race now,” he added.
Ford told the Toronto Star on Tuesday that “I don’t think any of the candidates could beat Kathleen Wynne . . . they don’t attract a certain base in Toronto and the 905 that we would attract.”
While Ford dominated parts of Etobicoke and Scarborough, party insiders cautioned that mounting a credible campaign would require a province-wide organization to win support in all regions and broad fundraising appeal.
Under strict provincial campaign contribution limits, Ford would be prohibited from underwriting much of the cost of his own bid, as he did in the mayoralty.
The party requires a $75,000 entry fee plus a $25,000 refundable deposit and has set a campaign spending limit of $1.25 million per candidate.
Hudak gave Ford credit for surpassing expectations in the Toronto race against Tory and Olivia Chow, suggesting Ford could help the party make a breakthrough in the city.
“He got a lot of votes and he won in areas where I didn’t get those votes,” said Hudak, who was ousted by his caucus after the party lost nine seats in the June election, handing Wynne a majority.
“My job as a former leader is to encourage good people to get in the race. It’s good for the party, it’s good for the province of Ontario and hopefully we’ll get a change in the direction.”
Leadership hopeful Monte McNaughton, MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, said he’s not worried the sometimes abrasive Ford will join the race.
“I, for one, trust the wisdom of the grassroots to make the right decision in May on who they want to be their leader.”
But McNaughton acknowledged Ford could attract interest and boost the party’s fortunes.
“Just over 10 years ago we had 100,000 members. Today we’re down to 10,000 members. So anything we can do to raise the profile I think is a good thing for the party, quite frankly.”
Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North), a MacLeod supporter, said it’s “unfortunate” Ford would say anything negative.
“That’s his big mistake,” said Dunlop.
Also in the race are MPP Christine Elliott, whose late husband Jim Flaherty was a family friend of the Fords, MPP Vic Fedeli and MP Patrick Brown.