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MP endorsements not necessarily an indicator of victory in Ontario PC leadership race, say strategists

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*Originally published in the Hill TImes on May 4, 2015

Conservative MP Patrick Brown and Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott can each tout strong support from MPs as they vie for the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership, but strategists argue that the quality—rather than the quantity—of the endorsements will determine their impact.

Voting for the next opposition leader at Queen’s Park started May 3 and will resume May 7.

Ms. Elliott is leading the tally of support from federal MPs, according to the latest list compiled by polling website threehundredeight.com, with 24 endorsements over Mr. Brown’s 21. Ms. Elliott also holds the support of more Cabinet ministers and former Ontario premiers.

Yet the latest poll of PC party members released by Mainstreet Technologies indicated that 62 per cent would vote for Mr. Brown in the leadership race, while only 33 per cent would opt for his well-endorsed opponent.

Yaroslav Baran, a Conservative strategist and principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, said that endorsements are important but not imperative.

“It does help raise a candidate’s profile. It does help motivate those members you signed up to actually go through with the rest of the process and lend you their support when it’s time to actually vote at the end of the leadership race,” he told The Hill Times.

Threehundredeight.com has broken down the value and weight of endorsements in the PC leadership race. Heavyweights like former prime ministers and provincial premiers land a candidate 30 “endorsement points” while sitting MPP endorsements earn 2.5 points, each multiplied by the number of elections the endorser has won. Federal MPs, regardless of position, are worth just one point on the ranking system.

Éric Grenier, who runs threehundredeight.com, notes on the site that these numbers may serve as an approximation of party support, but not necessarily of voters.

“At the very least, it gives a strong indication of what the party establishment thinks. If the membership disagrees, then that in and of itself will be a result,” he wrote.

When Tim Hudak won the PC leadership in 2009, he held more support from both federal and provincial Conservative caucuses than his rivals, including Ms. Elliott who also ran in that contest.

The accord between federal and provincial parties isn’t imperative though, says MP Daryl Kramp (Prince Edward-Hastings, Ont.). He told The Hill Times that while it’s useful to have support from any reputable source, the leader of the Ontario PCs doesn’t need the seal of approval from the federal Conservatives.

“Even though we may be with the same party, we might have an occasion where we’re going to have a different approach on an issue because there’s a federal perspective and there’s a provincial perspective. … I don’t think we have to move lock-step on everything,” Mr. Kramp says.

While Mr. Kramp was on a list of federal endorsements provided to The Hill Times by Christine Elliott’s campaign in March, he noted last week that he was supporting both candidates.

“It is helpful, but it’s not actually a winning strategy. It’s not how you win,” Mr. Baran said of endorsements. “At the end of the day, what really wins a leadership race is on-the-ground campaigning.”

Navigator and ENsight principal Will Stewart agreed, saying that a federal endorsement is most effective when it can boost the candidate’s ground-game.

“The federal Members of Parliament won’t bring a lot of sway when it comes to media, appearances, or selling memberships or anything like that. But what it does do is actually bring organization on the ground. I think that’s important,” said Mr. Stewart, who handled media for Mr. Hudak in the last provincial election campaign.

“The numbers of them certainly help, because that makes for an interesting press release. But it’s really the amount of work that the MP is going to put behind their leader of choice,” he added.

MP Rick Dykstra (St. Catharines, Ont.) has put a great deal of effort into Mr. Brown’s campaign as the honourary co-chair.

“Wherever I need to help Patrick, whatever he asks me to do, I’ve worked on doing,” Mr. Dykstra said, adding that his vague duties range from organizational work to phoning undecided voters.

The leadership race has entered the get-out-the-vote phase. Deadlines have passed for candidates to sign up PC party members, with Mr. Brown claiming to have registered a race-leading 40,000 new members. Now the candidates need to focus on making sure those members actually cast their votes on May 3 and 7. Both Mr. Baran and Mr. Stewart agree that this is where the access to an MP’s extensive organization of support can make an impact.

“We’ve got a huge team, we’ve coordinated a lot of ridings for get-out-the-vote. Wherever we have areas that need to be shored up, we’re able to put people in place,” said Mr. Dykstra.

To that end, however, candidates might want an energetic teenager on their team more than a Member of Parliament. Any volunteers who can pound the pavement for a campaign are most important at this point, the strategists said.

“Anytime you can find a worker bee is what you need at this point in the campaign,” Mr. Stewart said. “People who are involved in youth politics are really keen, have time on their hands, and can really easily be motivated. My sense is that Patrick has most of those people.”

From Mr. Stewart’s perspective, both candidates are in interesting positions heading into the voting. While Mr. Brown has indeed sold more memberships than Ms. Elliott, Mr. Stewart suggests that the latter may have an advantage in guaranteed votes.

“You have to give the edge to Christine, where I think there were 10,000 members in the beginning. You have to assume that the majority of those 10,000 are, (a) with Christine Elliott, and (b) going to vote,” he said.

“He has the numbers, but they need to vote. Christine doesn’t have the numbers, but is pretty confident that they will vote. So, it’s going to really come down to an interesting election day,” he added.

 

Ontario PC MPP Christine Elliott’s Leadership Campaign Endorsements

Ontario Federal Conservative Members of Parliament:

Conservative MP Chris Alexander, Ajax-Pickering, Ont.

Conservative MP Jay Aspin, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ont.

Conservative MP Peter Braid, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.

Conservative MP John Carmichael, Don Valley West, Ont.

Conservative MP Collin Carrie, Oshawa, Ont.

Conservative MP Michael Chong, Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.

Conservative MP Ed Holder, London West, Ont.

Conservative MP Peter Kent, Thornhill, Ont.

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, Simcoe-Grey, Ont.

Conservative MP Rob Nicholson, Niagara Falls, Ont.

Conservative MP Rick Norlock, Northumberland-Quinte West, Ont.

Conservative MP Ted Opitz, Etobicoke Centre, Ont.

Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, Durham, Ont.

Conservative MP Pat Perkins, Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.

Conservative MP Joe Preston, Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ont.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, Halton, Ont.

Conservative MP Greg Rickford, Kenora, Ont.

Conservative MP Bruce Stanton, Simcoe North, Ont.

Conservative MP David Sweet, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, Ont.

Conservative MP Bernard Trottier, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ont.

Conservative MP Susan Truppe, London North Centre, Ont.

Conservative MP Dave van Kesteren, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Ont.

Conservative MP Mike Wallace, Burlington, Ont.

Conservative MP Terence Young, Oakville, Ont.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Members of Provincial Parliament:

Progressive Conservative MPP Ted Arnott, Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark, Leeds-Grenville, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli, Nipissing, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Ernie Hardeman, Oxford, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris, Kitchener-Conestoga, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Sylvia Jones, Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, Nepean-Carleton, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Gila Martow, Thornhill, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Jim McDonell, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Norm Miller, Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Julia Munro, York-Simcoe, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Pettapiece, Perth-Wellington, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott, Haliburton-Kwartha Lakes-Brock, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith, Prince Edward-Hastings, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa Thompson, Huron-Bruce, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek, Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ont

 

Conservative MP Patrick Brown’s Leadership Campaign Endorsements

Ontario Federal Conservative Members of Parliament:

Conservative MP Mark Adler, York Centre, Ont.

Conservative MP Dean Allison, Niagara West-Glanbrook, Ont.

Conservative MP Gord Brown, Leeds-Grenville, Ont.

Conservative MP Brad Butt, Mississauga-Streetsville, Ont.

Conservative MP Paul Calandra, Oak Ridges-Markham, Ont.

Conservative MP Corneliu Chisu, Pickering-Scarborough East, Ont.

Conservative MP Joe Daniel, Don Valley East, Ont.

Conservative MP Rick Dykstra, St. Catharines, Ont.

Conservative MP Julian Fantino, Vaughan, Ont.

Conservative MP Royal Galipeau, Ottawa-Orléans, Ont.

Conservative MP Parm Gill, Brampton-Springdale, Ont.

Conservative MP Bal Gosal, Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Ont.

Conservative MP Pierre Lemieux, Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Ont.

Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon, Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.

Conservative MP Ben Lobb, Huron-Bruce, Ont.

Conservative MP Dave Mackenzie, Oxford, Ont.

Conservative MP Phil McColeman, Brant, Ont.

Conservative MP Costas Menegakis, Richmond Hill, Ont.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, Nepean-Carleton, Ont.

Conservative MP Kyle Seeback, Brampton West, Ont.

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, Kitchener Centre, Ont.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Members of Provincial Parliament:

Progressive Conservative MPP Toby Barrett, Haldimand-Norfolk, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Jack MacLaren, Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, Ont.

Progressive Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Ont.

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